I drove back to Victoria Falls from Bulawayo on 4 June. I was excited to see how the level of the river had changed in the two weeks that I was away; it had dropped significantly.
There is now a muddy sandbank in front of my tent, and I was happy to see a line of deeply indented elephant footprints leading into the interior of the Island. Zenzo told me that a big solitary bull had made the crossing from the Zimbabwe bank the day before I got home.
On 6 June, a small cow herd crossed in the late afternoon and spent that night and all the next day feeding quietly and happily on all the essentially untouched vegetation left at the end of the rains.
I love sleeping in my tent feeling completely safe with elephants all around. Throughout the night I listen to tummy rumbles and the sound of branches being broken off and chewed up.
A second bigger herd arrived on 7 June and they too spent a full day on the Island. The familiar signs of their passing are starting to appear, piles of fresh dung and scattered freshly picked leaves on the forest floor.
On 14 June a solo bull elephant crossed to the Island from Zimbabwe during the night. Felix, our security guard, said that the elephant got into the river to swim to Zambia and got confused by our jetty.
He ripped the entire structure off its base at the end of the walkway. I hope the photos give readers some idea of the scarcely believable power that it took to do this damage. We count ourselves very lucky that it did not happen in high water when we might have lost the whole jetty downstream.
The Zambezi River flows at Victoria Falls are decreasing, closing the period under review at 2,405 m3/s on 11 June 2020. The flow observed on the same date last year was 946m3/s, so we still have two and a half times the volume of water going over the Falls.
The level is most clearly illustrated by the two photos of my tent, taken exactly 30 days apart.
Another perspective that shows the drop in just 21 days is shown by two photos I took from the water looking back at the bar and jetty.
By 22 June the Zambezi River flows at Victoria Falls were 1,868 m3/s, against 521 m3/s on the same date last year.
On the path from the walkway to my tent, I came across something I have never seen before on the Island. A small tree next to the path has an inundation of bagworm moths.
In the larval stage, bagworms extend their head and thorax from their mobile case to devour the leaves of host plants, often leading to the death of their hosts. Trees infested with bagworms exhibit increasingly damaged foliage as the infestation increases until the leaves are stripped bare.
A bagworm begins to build its case as soon as it hatches. Once the case is built, only adult males ever leave the case, never to return, when they take flight, to find a mate.
Bagworms add material to the front of the case as they grow, excreting waste materials through the opening in the back of the case. When satiated with leaves, a bagworm caterpillar secures its case and pupates. The adult female, which is wingless, either emerges from the case long enough for breeding or remains in the case while the male extends his abdomen into the female’s case to breed. Females lay their eggs in their case and die.
This will be my last blog for the foreseeable future. Our little team is disbanding until international tourism returns to Southern Africa again.
A skeleton staff consisting of security, butlers and maintenance people will rotate duties to keep our assets safe and ready for reopening. The rest of us will go our separate ways and await the call to return.
Since 30 July 2017, we have welcomed 2,222 guests from all over the world onto the Island.
It has been a wonderful time, and bookings for this year promised to be our best since opening. The river and the animals that live in or near it are, of course, oblivious to the cataclysmic changes we are experiencing.
We held a lunch on the Island on 30 June to say goodbye to each other. I wanted to thank my amazing team for three exceptionally good years of making guests happy. Since lockdown began at the end of March, Blessed has fathered another child, and Calvin’s wife gave birth to their first child. Life goes on.