Stanley Livingstone Game Drive
Nestled in the heart of the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve is Stanley Livingstone, a self- contained bush paradise around which overwhelming natural wonder erupts. The lodge is a pinnacle of luxury, where old world elegance merges with African opulence and fountains, flower beds and bird baths spill across luscious green lawn. Hippos wallow in watering holes and the Big Five roam around the savanna that rolls away from the foot of the lodge in a seemingly endless stream of indigenous trees and track riddled paths.
A game drive around Stanley Livingstone is a riveting and enriching experience, striking the perfect balance between recreational and educational. During my visit to Stanley Livingstone, I discovered that there is no better classroom than the back of a land rover bouncing through the African bush. Instead of the four walls of a classroom, we had the four wheels of a Land Rover, and the rigid cold school chairs were replaced by army green leather seat cushions.Questions were encouraged, laughing was inevitable and the learning is inspirational. Our teacher and safari guide, Mike, had an abundance of fun and freaky facts- every tree had a story and every drop of dung had a history.
Ten minutes after leaving Stanley Livingstone, we cruised up to a herd of zebra. They shot us an inquisitive glance, before resuming their grazing, as if we were of no interest to them whatsoever. They had an air of arrogant elegance about them, and as we admired their glossy stripes, Mike explained that the design isn’t just a fashion statement. Zebra stripes act as a private air-conditioning system, allowing them to stay blissfully cool in the blistering heat of a Zimbabwean afternoon. While humans tend to bond over coffee and a Mugg and Bean muffin, these animals frequently indulge in one another’s faeces. This is a process known as Coprophagia, and is practised for several reasons. These faeces contain substantial amounts of semi-digested food, so basically its leftovers for lunch. Mothers are known to eat the faeces of their new born young during the earliest phase after birth to eliminate cues to potential predators. Human parents make a lot of sacrifices for their children, but the mother zebras are in a whole other league!
Moments later, a chubby warthog went waddling past our vehicle. Having grown up with these pesky characters demolishing our garden and putting my mum in a mood, I made a deliberate effort to not show too much interest in him, just out of principle. However, it proved extremely difficult to hold a grudge against a near round bush pig, who was struggling to balance due to the obvious lack of a tail. According to Mike, this wasn’t the only dismembered pig in the land. Warthogs live in burrows. Unfortunately for them, so do hyenas. Often, as warthogs back up into the homes, they are met by the sharp teeth of an unwanted guest, who not only evict them, but take a behind bite for their trouble. About 70% of the warthogs on this 6000-acre game reserve could tell you this tale (pun intended).
With a renewed love for these poor little bush pigs, we continued our quest. The setting sun cast a warm golden glow over the world, illuminating the flecks of sand carried on the breeze, and drawing the light down far enough that the first whispers of stars began to blink in the sky. We could hear birds ruffling the leaves on the trees, and the air was filled with tranquillity…and smelled a little bit like pee. Aghast, I shot a glance at the group with me, searching for the culprit. I wasn’t the only one to have noticed this acidic scent, but Mike looked overjoyed and excitedly asked if anyone could smell urine. With the “whoever smelt it dealt it” childhood chant in my mind, I averted my gaze and kept my mouth shut. Much to my relief, he informed us that rhino had recently been in the area.
Mike explained how rhino have a unique system of detecting the presence of another rhino. Male rhino ensures that after defecating he leaves traces of urine and faeces on his back legs. As they stroll around, these little titbits drop off, allowing him to mark his territory. While humans stand around at bars, batting their eyelashes in skin tight jeans, an increase of oestrogen in female rhino dung is all it takes to let the boys know to turn on the charm. In fact, rhino urine is basically their Facebook page, and hosts an abundance of information. We like to smell wines to find out about their culture and flavour, and rhino like to smell each other’s urine for similar reasons.
When we finally saw five beautiful black rhino, I felt like I knew them already. They took a leisurely stroll around our vehicle, soaking up their attention of the five awestruck visitors. I felt overwhelmingly privileged to be in their presence when Mike explained how these were five of the remaining 1500 black rhino left in the world. They moved with such a quiet grace, so nonthreatening, that it proved difficult to accept that there was such a high price on their heads.
Feeling humbled by the experience, we said our goodbyes and headed towards the dam for sundowners, pausing now and again to allow a herd of elephant or buffalo to cross the road.