Zambia - Victoria Falls, Elephants and Lions

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Africa » Zambia » Livingstone
June 26th 2012
Published: June 30th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Victoria FallsVictoria FallsVictoria Falls

The falls are too large to take in from any single vantage point (on the ground, anyway).
We got up early and again had to hurry, this time to make our morning tour of the falls. After a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet we were off. The local name is Mosi-oa-Tunya which translates to “the smoke that thunders”. We stopped along the drive to look at the top of the falls from a distance and see the persistent plumes of spray that look very much like smoke. The water goes over a ledge into a wide, deep crack in the earth created by volcanic activity. The tour is along the opposite edge of the crack, facing the falls from approximately the same height as the top. The thundering sound of the water was audible long before we could get a view, but shortly into our walk we came to our first viewing point where we could see part of the falls and some of the massive spray of water droplets propelled upwards into the air above the falls. With clear skies and bright sun, this creates an impressive rainbow. We shot photos and learned a bit from our guide and then proceeded on the tour. The falls are too massive and too obscured by the mist to
Top of the FallsTop of the FallsTop of the Falls

The spray from the falls creates a permanent rainbow.
take in from a single vantage point, so we continued along the opposite face to get a sense of them from many different angles. Our guide showed us some photos taken in the spring (October) when the water levels are much lower and the falls are much narrower, allowing the adventurous to walk across much of what was flowing quite nicely on this June day. The last segment of the walk crosses over a narrow footbridge through heavy spray, so we donned our provided ponchos and had our “baptism.” The ponchos helped but we were still quite wet everywhere they didn’t cover (legs and shoes). We skipped the option to tour the falls from the Zimbabwe side, which would have required purchasing expensive visas both to get into Zimbabwe and then get back into Zambia. Back at the parking lot, we were greeted by baboons, allowing us to proudly check off one more animal on our list. We had a relaxing lunch break back at the hotel. Andrew and John spent some time in the chilly swimming pool, and Lauren continued to enjoy having an internet connection. For the afternoon, we had separate activity plans. Lauren and Sonia were off
Ready for the SprayReady for the SprayReady for the Spray

Our guide called it a "baptism" - the walk took us through some periods of heavy downpour.
to the Lion Encounter while Andrew and John were off for an elephant-back safari. The elephants are all rescued from various difficult situations (orphans that were unlikely to survive alone). After a brief orientation we met our elephants. About a dozen of them paraded out, each with a “saddle” suitable for the handler as well as two guests. We climbed a platform about twelve feet off the ground to hop on board Masula, a good sized bull elephant that we were assured had a very sweet disposition. Christopher, our handler, told us a lot about elephants as we plodded along a two-mile trek. We saw more baboons and were introduced to the very odd-looking “sausage tree”. The mid-point of the walk was at the river and we stopped to have our photographs taken by some of the guides. The elephants all “saluted” (trunks up and folded back along their foreheads) for the photos. After the return trek, we got to feed our elephants. Masula knelt down and Andrew sat on his leg while scooping grain pellets into his outstretched trunk. John helped a bit but had trouble with the idea of filling the elephant’s nose up with food (after each good-sized scope of food, Masula would transfer from trunk into mouth). We got to pet his very rough skin and then said goodbye. The lion encounter is run out of the same site and the boys were unexpectedly reunited with Sonia and Lauren back in the main building. During the brief orientation about the lion outreach program, we learned that the lions are taken from their mothers as young cubs and raised by handlers until they are 18 months old. The program has four stages that begin with acclimation to their human handlers and end with them being fully prepared for life on their own in the national park. While still young, the cubs can be convinced that their handlers are the dominant members of the pride, but by 18 months or so, they figure out who really has the upper hand and it is time to let them go. We learned a little about how to behave as subordinate members of the pride (don’t touch head or ears, maintain eye contact, don’t crouch down) and some safety measures (always know where all the cats are) and then it was time to meet the lions. These cats are 17 months
Swimming by the ZambeziSwimming by the ZambeziSwimming by the Zambezi

Pool closes at sunset, because there is nothing to prevent the hippos and crocs from coming out of the river and up onto the pool deck
old and almost ready for release. They are capable hunters, but responded fairly obediently to signals (including whistles) from their handler. As they lounged, we were first invited up individually to pet them (and be photographed). Then, we all walked down to the edge of the Zambezi River and some (including Lauren) were invited up to get their hands licked. The rough cat tongue left red scrape marks on Lauren’s hand, but she still loved it. Then the cats were allowed to play with each other along the riverfront. It was all incredibly beautiful and Sonia blew an entire memory card taking photos and video. When it was time to leave, everyone was much more comfortable with the big cats and we all walked together, cats and people, back to initial meeting point to say goodbye. Back at the hotel, we had some unwinding with the kids being unusually playful, rowdy and silly. We took a taxi over to the Royal Livingstone hotel (a beautiful, old, super-luxury hotel in the area) for dinner and our driver told many stories about the hazards of driving at night in animal country. In particular he mentioned that if you hit an elephant, the
Elephant Photo OpElephant Photo OpElephant Photo Op

Masula poses with his trunk in the salute position. Zambezi river in background.
likely outcome is that the animal will be more annoyed than injured and proceed to stomp you to death in your car. (It was dark, and he was driving cautiously). We did run into Lauren’s friends who were staying at this hotel and traded stories of our experiences in Zambia. Dinner was good and included a Zambian chicken stew for John. After dinner it was back to the hotel to pack up for a long travel day. We were surprised to find that the turn-down service at the hotel includes setting up the mosquito netting around the beds (we had assured the kids that these were entirely decorative and that they shouldn’t mess with the nicely tied corners). There aren’t many mosquitos at this time of year, but the netting did make for a neat effect on our last night in Africa.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Feeding an ElephantFeeding an Elephant
Feeding an Elephant

Andrew loads up Masula's trunk with grain while sitting upon his knee.
Cool ShadowCool Shadow
Cool Shadow

Shadow of Masula as we trekked back through some low grass.
Nice kittyNice kitty
Nice kitty

Lauren get her chance to pet a lion
Petting a LionPetting a Lion
Petting a Lion

Sonia and Lauren get to pet one of the lions during the Lion Encounter.
Rough TongueRough Tongue
Rough Tongue

Lauren got licked by this lion. His rough tongue left her hand a little red and sore.

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