We’re towards to end of the rainy season now, it’s been raining for a fair few months and we’re about to hit some of the driest months of the year. It is amazing to see how much the level of the lake has risen this rainy season.
Here is the main beach pictured in February this year (left) and just a few days ago. The water has risen to the grassy bank in the base of the Feb photo. (A floating bed of papyrus has floated across and partially blocked the beach in the right photo).
The lake is part of the River Rwizi catchment, a catchment of about 8,000km2, stretching across 10 districts. The river itself is about 55km long and its waters eventually drain in to Lake Victoria. Lake Kacheera is one of numerous lakes which make up the lower end of the catchment, others include Lake Mburo, Lake Nakivale and Lake Kijanebalola. These lakes are linked through numerous wetland systems and form the largest part of the catchment.
Over a heavy rainy season, as we have just experienced, a huge amount of water collects over this vast area and makes its way eastward. Hence why we see the impact late in the rainy season being almost at the end of this catchment. The lake level has been very low for the past year or two and it’s great to see the lake once more at levels akin to three years ago.
Above: Building our hide in April the beach was low, now it’s almost lapping at the base!
We’re now installing a measuring stick in our bay to record lake levels so we can see more accurately the rise and fall of the lake over the course of a year.
The lakeside path is a fun adventure as it’s completely underwater, wellies are now a must to reach the forest platform, either that or wet feet!
We’re lucky at the camp to play host to one of the largest mammals in Africa, the hippopotamus. We often joke that the hippos are the equivalent of camp ghosts, they’re often heard, at night people imagine them brushing their tents (usually students who like to wind each other up), their tracks are seen around the camp but they themselves are seldom seen. Their presence seems more like a rumour than a fact.
And why is it that they are so seldom seen? One reason is they stay put in the lake during the day and only move out at night to graze. A band of papyrus lines the lakes shoreline making it difficult to see in to the open water and spot their half submerged faces. This is something our new forest platform and beach hide hope to overcome. From the platform you can see over some papyrus, making it possible to spot a passing hippo. The hide is located just a few metres from their favourite hang out spot, the water is shallow and we hope they will be happy to pass by, unaware of watching visitors safely concealed behind the papyrus walled hide. If we were to wander around at night with a torch then they would definitely be spotted, however night time hippo watching on foot is not really recommended, they are after all one of the bigggest killers in Africa.
Another reason for their secrecy is their conflict with humans. Around the lake there are many farmers growing vegetables of all descriptions. These fields are located right down on the lakes shore, making it possible for small water pumps to irrigate the fields. Often at night you can hear the distant banging of a jerry can and the occasional whoop of a farmer as he attempts to chase of the hippos and protect his crops.
Our camera trapping provides us with a lot of information on the hippos movements and population. Last week we captured photos of a pod leaving and returning to the lake after grazing. Four adults and one calf were identified. When we get the camps boat up and running, we’ll get a better idea of the population in the lower half of the lake, the different pods and their territories.
So a natural behaviour of nocturnal grazing and day time wallowing combined with the human conflict of the area makes for few hippo sightings. We’re hoping the hippos come to learn the camps 35 acres are a safe place for them to roam and graze, free from banging jerry cans and hostile humans, even if Nathan and Nshama give the odd grumble about them eating the cows’ grass,.
We knew that we would have to alter the landscape of our land if we were to develop our camp. There’s no getting round it, toilets, showers, shelters etc need to be built and this is going to impact our environment. However the extent to which it impacts our environment was up to us. As such we’ve been plotting and planning how to make our buildings low impact.
The toilet and shower area has been a hotly debated topic. With all that water splashing around we needed to find a material, other than brick and cement, that would stand up over the test of time. Ideas were thrown around, the internet searched for inspiration until something on Pinterest jolted our brains.
So here we have it our very own gabion style toilet and showers. Using easily accessible materials we’ve made the walls of our toilets and showers out of rocks. Using just galvanised chainlink fencing and some smaller holed chicken wire we built a wall between eucalyptus poles which was then filled with aggregates. A few holes still need to be filled to keeping mischevous children from spying on each other, but otherwise we’ve ended up with some rather attractive and unique walls.
Not only are the rocks durable to the elements but the porous wall could make them in to “living” walls, growing different plants or even herbs up them.
The shower floor was another issue, again what to use instead of cement? We fell back on good old recycling. Using the PVC from an old billboard we lined the shower pan, a drain was set in this and then it will be covered in gravel. Gravel has softer edges than aggregate which we worried might tear the material. It’ll be finished off with a few stone slates to make it a comfier experience for your feet and there we have it. A low impact shower using recycled material.
This method of construction allows us the freedom to change our minds further down the line if we want them located in a different area. It’s easy to disassemble while keeping the materials intact and able to reuse. Not only that, but with minimal cement used, only for setting in the posts, there wouldn’t be a trace of the structures within a few months. Win win we see it, time shall tell how it holds up.
Follow our Facebook page over the next few weeks to see the final result!
It’s a bit of a slippery subject this one as it inspires fear in so many of us but one of the main ethos of the camp is education so we felt we’d tackle it a bit here. Snakes. It’s often a question posed by visitors, are there snakes? There’s no beating about the bush on this one as they are an integral part of the bush. Yes there are snakes. I’m sure on a daily basis I must walk in the vicinity of at least fifteen serpents. And yet I can count on my fingers the number of living snakes I have seen on the land after living out here for three years.
Snakes are like any other animal, they’re scared of humans and want nothing more than to be as far away from you as possible. A snake will only attack in defence, it can’t eat you so what’s the point in wasting it’s energy on attacking you unless you are posing a direct threat to it. If there’s the option to flee a snake will go for that rather than attack. For venomous snakes it’s a big waste of resources to bite and inject venom, that venom took time and energy to make and it will take even more time and energy to replace. No animal, not even a human would waste that if it had the option not to.
A common misconception we come across is that black snakes are deadly. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Take for example this little beauty found one evening, a rather rare sighting, a Christy’s snake-eater Polemon christyi.
Now as the name suggests, it eats snakes and it doesn’t use venom to do so. This is not to say that all black snakes are harmless, the burrowing asps look very similar and they are venomous. A safe rule of thumb is, if you’re not sure, keep your distance.
As the Christy’s snake-eater shows us, snakes can be very useful to have around. They can keep other populations of snakes in check and they can control vermin such as mice and rats. They form a key step in the food chain, feeding on lesser creatures and being food themselves to others. I’m sure the mongoose found at the camp enjoy a snake snack as do some birds of prey we see swooping around.
One thing which often scares people about snakes is the surprise factor. Snakes aren’t noisy creatures, often when you do come across them it’s a real surprise, perhaps shock is the better term. In these cases the snake is usually just as shocked as you and will try and get away fast. It may be that a snake drops from a tree or bush, you may disturb it while it’s catching up on a bit of sun bathing or you may stumble across it in some thicker vegetation. Can you spot the blind snake is this picture?
While a blind snake is very harmless I was very cautious around it as at the time I was not 100% sure of what it was. Snapping a few photos is a great way to ID a snake accurately. Often you need photos of the head and body scales to accurately ID a species.
An attempt to capture the head
Thanks to the internet there is a wealth of information ready and waiting for you. Social media has allowed experts in the field to link to the general public, providing accurate, up to date information for education. A great example of this is the Facebook group, The Snakes & Reptiles of East Africa. A tool used every time we have a snake or other reptile find.
In essence we encourage you to fight your fear of snakes, fight it by arming yourself with more knowledge. Get an idea of the common snakes in your area and learn how to tell them apart, paying particular attention to learning which are venomous and which are not. With this information you can become a teacher yourself and help others through their fears.
We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the Park these past few weeks getting involved with giraffe research. Fifteen giraffe were translocated from Murchison Falls NP to Lake Mburo in July 2015. A sub-species of Northern giraffe, these Nubian giraffe are doing really well in their new home.
The main aim of the research is to learn where they are moving in the Park, what they’re eating and learn a bit about their relationships with one another. The last time we watched them one male had an injury. His front left leg was swollen and he was limping a lot. It was really interesting to watch the other 3 males as they stayed near him, often touching him with their noses. Were they concerned for him as a friend or interested to find out just how weak he was as a rival?
Apart for the current injury the giraffes have been doing really well and are often spotted by visitors to the Park. With such a small population it’s possible to know each individual and follow them closely. They are fascinating to watch, a very curious animal, often coming closer to get a better look at you.
Marion making her way past a herd of topi
Nicky bending down to inspect an old bone
While we’re all eagerly awaiting the arrival of a calf (seeing as their gestation period is 15 months it’s no surprise one hasn’t been delivered just yet!) it’s been great to spot and observe these great giants and we’re now well versed at identifying the different individuals. It will be interesting to see how this project develops over the coming years.