Sitatunga – in the swamps of Lake Bangweulu lives one of the most elusive animals on earth.
Bangweulu – The Place Where the Earth Meets the Sky – is the deep and secret heart of Zambia. Its papyrus swamps and pellucid channels are the home of Africa’s oddest bird, the ghostly grey shoebill stork. But what had lured me to these mysterious wetlands was the equally rare sitatunga, an aquatic antelope renowned for its extraordinary shyness. Sometimes it hides deep in the reeds for days, or will lie submerged with only its muzzle above water. The sitatunga is possibly the most secretive mammal in Africa and Bangweulu is the best place to see it.
We set out long before sunrise, wading barefoot through the bitterly cold water. In the darkness the swamp lay still, held in a single silence until the first red hint of dawn appeared and the marshes began to throb with the bubbling cries of coucals.
I never saw the sitatunga appear. One moment there was nothing but an emptiness of papyrus. The next, a horned apparition had detached itself from the shadows, a sleek young bull with a face as barbaric as a tribal mask and a chocolate coat splashed with handsome white blazes.
For fully five minutes he remained frozen, one splayfooted foreleg held off the ground in mid-stride as he cautiously sniffed the air. Then, very slowly, he lowered his head and began to browse.
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