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Puku watching at Plains Camp


If you love people watching, then the Plains Camp is definitely the place for you. Although, you’ll need to replace “people” with “puku” and “lechwe” as you’ll barely see another soul outside of the camp, which makes it a rather special place to spend some time.

There are many great things about this camp. One of them is whiling away an afternoon, watching the herds grazing, as you sit around camp sipping a cool drink.

It was one such afternoon, when Tony and I were engaged in an unusually intellectual debate about a bachelor herd of lechwe; were they forming a lek?

Quick editorial note: Breeding males compete for central positions on a lek (breeding ground) where females come to breed. Up to 90% of females in a local population visit the leks and mate with centrally placed males.

If you are anything like me, then part of the entertainment of people watching is creating stories about those you are observing. Let me tell you, at first glance a herd of 100 lechwe may seem pretty similar. After an afternoon’s observation, you will soon start to see some personalities emerging….

It was while we were scanning around with the binos, we spotted another male at some distance. We wanted to know whether he would join the other males. We watched as he chose a position some way away from the rest and started scent marking by rubbing each side of his face on the ground. The area he selected for this was somewhat unfortunate in that the ground consisted of very dry hay; this became stuck to his face. The effort of trying to remove this was in vain, he sat down to contemplate his next move. (See photo)

Tony and I surmised that he had decided on a different strategy to other males. Perhaps he was not as smart or as good looking as the others; perhaps his foot stamping was not as emphatic…. But what is a female really after? Of course, a male with a GSOH! So we named him “Comedy Dave” (hail his alter ego on the Chris Moyles breakfast show)

Let’s now fast forward our story to the evening. Back at the camp with drinks before dinner, you’ll find yourself sitting around a fire, mulling over the day’s events. It’s very dark so you see nothing on the plains around you. We heard an alarm call, and then very quickly, another. Tony and Tyrone switched on their torches to sweep the surrounding area – now we were all alert.

Suddenly the air was thick with the sound of thundering hooves running past and in the torchlight we spotted the eyes of a lioness chasing the lechwe right across us. In a moment with a classic set piece of lion hunting, another lioness moved in from the other direction and without a sound; a lechwe was brought down and killed, only 100 mtrs from our fire. A male lechwe….. you may see where I’m going with this.

This was a totally unexpected addition to the evening and the boys at the camp quickly sprang into action to move us to the safety of the veranda and set up lights so we could see what was happening. We watched while a lion and a third lioness with cubs moved in on the kill and settled down to eat. We also decided to have our own dinner and left them to it. After dinner, we took our coffee and watched the progress of the lions’ feast.

In the morning the lions had moved on (although we saw a footprint by the fire, so clearly they came to have a nose around). Not a lot of lechwe was left, apart from a pair of horns. It would make a better story, although much more tragic for Dave, if I could say there was a pathetic twist of hay around the horns, but this is not true. So not every story can have a happy ending in life and death on the Busanga Plains, but I hear there’s a lechwe moral that Dave might have done well to remember…. It doesn’t pay to stand out from the herd.

Was it Dave? Who knows? He had a 1 in a 100 chance. I really hope not as I’d grown rather fond of him and Tyrone has promised he’ll look out for him (he may just be humouring me – he’s a nice guy). We will never forget our evening and we are amazed to have had the fantastic privilege to witness to an event like this.

Safari arranged by Busanga Safaris.

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