Part I is here: Visitors on the Wild Side of Lake Tanganyika – I
Moving ‘up’ the wildlife chain… We have many guinea fowl in the wild – and a while back I was given a clutch to keep. They make excellent guardians, screeching away when strangers enter. Also they are good to eat, of course.
Lots of owls abound, although one does not see so much of them. They are considered highly unlucky in some parts of Africa. Here are some babies that I raised, above and below, who had been orphaned. They were successfully released into the wild:
One day a few years ago, at the Cercle Hippique (Riding Club), a bat literally fell out of the sky in front of me and some friends. It must have been sick, because it died. Bats like to find places to live in your attic or roof eves. The first house where we were with the project had wonderful bat-roosting facilities – and in the evenings the little bats would swoop into the house and circle the inside in search of flying insects. It was a 3-story, open and 6-sided house, huge African-style, perfect for bats. Unfortunately, the 4 cats loved chasing them and found it relatively easy to catch them. The bats’ radar didn’t seem capable of sensing cats – only insects. I or someone else were always rescuing squeaking, angry bats from the cats.
On a training exercise that I conducted upcountry, I bought a Serval Cat skin from a traditional healer at a local market for less than a dollar. This was by way of ‘repayment’ for learning about some of her traditional meds and healing practices. Back at home, I hung it on the wall, whereupon a worker exclaimed when seeing it: “Where’s the Meat!?” 😮
Serval Cats are really beautiful – not very big, and extremely elegant.
In the ‘old days’, Serval Cat skins were worn, but only by notables – as shown in the following picture. I understand they are not in danger (the Serval cats, not the notables). They continue to be caught for their skins and medicinal powers and the flesh is eaten.
John Hanning Speke comments in one of his mid-nineteenth century writings on central-east africa, that a young man came to their camp who was wearing a Serval skin, but everyone knew he was a commoner and not a member of the royal family. He was de-cloaked and sent home in disgrace, as I remember
Leopards still exist over in the Congo and their young are sometimes raised by local folk. Here is one that is pretty tame. It’s waiting for a bigger cage to be built.
Hippopotami are in abundance in Lake Tanganyika – though the rebels and military both in Burundi and the Congo have been decimating their numbers over the last 15 years. Being relatively isolated, they can be huge, and one night driving back out to the lake I came upon a tremendously huge hippo on the road – he was sideways, and blocked the entire road together with the shoulders of the road. Hippos are extremely dangerous and kill more people than any other beast in Africa. I quickly went into reverse and sped backwards for a long ways.
In Kenya I knew, briefly, a very silly person who insisted camping out on the shores of Lake Naivasha – even though we warned him it was quite foolhardy. During the night he was attacked and killed by a hippo. It seemed he’d erected his little tent on a hippo trail. Hippos have their own trails, which are marked by the males. They are extremely territorial.
Before the fighting stopped a couple of years ago, shooting during the night could indicate either pot-shots at rebels by the military (or vice-versa), or the killing of a hippo. Once, we heard shooting just on the other side of the compound gate, and the next morning were presented with part of a hippo haunch (since it was shot right by our gate, we were told by the military that we were eligible for some of the meat). Their flesh is pretty good.
Before people started coming back out here to the lake (after the war), one could listen to the hippos fighting, or perhaps just talking during the night. They come out of the water during the night-time to graze, and did drive the village farmers crazy with the amount they would eat from the cultivated crops. I do miss them, though we still see them from time to time in the lake – and just last Friday there were a couple that I watched while eating breakfast.
Crocks are also numerous in the lake – we have a famous, legendary crock named ‘Gustaf’, who is said to be the largest crock in the world and has been seen by many people (not me, though). He is very wise (and old) and cruises up and down the lake between here and Tanzania. The National Geographic was out here a while back to do a special on him, and brought a large balloon to noiselessly float over the Lake. Search ‘Gustav’ and ‘Lake Tanganyika’ and ‘Crocodile’ on Google and you can learn about him.
Every now and then a crock will snag a swimmer, usually where lots of boys are swimming.
Wart Hogs are not numerous, but still exist nearby us, in the Rusizi wetlands – here is a photo I took a while back:
Gazelles – Yes, there are some of these left, too, up here at the North end of the lake, mainly smaller breeds such as the Dikdik. From time to time locals will come with a baby gazelle wanting to sell it to me. They are usually the young of a mother who has been caught in a trap. But much as I’d like to, I refuse for several reasons. First, I don’t want to encourage locals to snare wildlife in order to sell the young. Second, it is very difficult to raise them, and if they do make it to adulthood, one cannot turn them loose. The have to go into a zoo and there aren’t appropriate facilities here in Burundi. So, grizzly as it sounds, it is better they be consumed along with their mother.
Elephants did exist here, migrating between this area and the Congo. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries they were brought down by local folks for their ivory, which was sold to Swahili traders up from the Kenya coast. The last one I have heard about was seen on an island in the Rusizi about 40 years ago. It was a youngster, who probably got left behind the herd as it was making its escape to the Cong hills (which is just a few klms. to the left in the following photo).
We still have various kinds of monkeys, including the following:
Rock pythons (below) are not poisonous, but can give a nasty bite. They kill their prey by squeezing them to death.
- Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part VI (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part III (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- It’s That Time of the Year Again: Rice Harvesting and Processing (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure by Tim Jeal: review (telegraph.co.uk)