The wooded grassland habitats of east Africa are the cradle of humanity. For generation upon generation, humans, and before them their hominin predecessors, have lived on these savannahs. And in doing so, they would have spent their days attuned to the natural sounds around them, listening for both opportunities and dangers.
This recording brings you the morning from a location where open woodlands border the edge of a seasonal lake. It is easy to imagine early humans living in an abundant environment such as this.
At first light, a pair of African Fish Eagles soar overhead, their evocative cries echoing across the landscape. Gradually, a chorus of woodland birds awakes and gives song, underpinned by the rolling cooing of doves. In the distance, the grunts of hippopotamus and calls of waterbirds are heard from the open water of the lake. In the trees around, sunbirds, starlings, rollers, hornbills, lorikeets and brubrus sing, while choruses of spur fowl erupt occasionally. At one point, a giraffe walks close by, scuffing the ground with its hooves.
This soundscape is the same as our distant ancestors would have known. In listening, we're hearing their world.
"Of all the places we visited in Tanzania, Lake Katavi captured my imagination. It is a remote location in the far southwest of the country. For miles around, the country is flat to gently undulating, a mosaic of open woodlands and tropical grasslands. Then, unexpectedly, one emerges through acacia thickets onto the shores of an expansive lake.
"In the dry season, when we were there, the waters had receded leaving a muddy foreshore and beyond, the lakebed with pools of deeper water. In these, hungry pelicans and waterfowl made a feast of trapped fish. Meanwhile, hippos wandered between shore feeding areas and the waters, where they'd laze during the heat of the day. Other animals came and went to drink from the pools; zebra, giraffe, hyenas.
"Lake Katavi is similar to Australia's ancient Lake Mungo, where some of the earliest evidence of aboriginal peoples has been found. Katavi is a place I could easily imagine early humans as part of the landscape, feeding off fish and woodland foods.
"And so I placed my microphones to record what they may have heard."
The tropical savannahs of Africa are of course rich with bird and animal life. I wish I could identify all the birdsong on this recording! Many species have cryptic harsh calls, which provide wonderful sonic textures.
As you listen in stereo, imagine that you're facing along the shoreline, with the lakebed to the right, where much of the waterbird calling and hippo grunts come from. The left faces the acacia scrub bordering the lake shore, and you're under some large evergreen trees in which birds can be heard to land and move around.
These are some of the species present:
African Fish Eagle - loud cries, particularly noticeable at beginning of recording
Ring-necked Dove - the almost continuous dove calling throughout
Red-eyed Dove - slightly lower frequency call, and less often
Egyptian Geese - calling from the lake
Common Bulbul - a typical, cheerful bulbul song (particularly from 22:40)
Southern Ground Hornbill - male/female duet of low frequency booming calls which carry for quite a distance
Red-necked Spurfowl - occasional bursts of collective, excitable harsh chattering
Purple-banded Sunbird - high-frequency songs and whistles
Yellow-collared Lovebird - Lorikeet-like screeches (notably around 54.00 and 1.38.00)
Some other species observed to be present, and likely on the recording:
Lapwings species, including Blacksmith, Crowned and Long-toed
Bare-faced Go Away Bird
Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Animals - zebras, impala, hartebeast, roan, lions, elephants, giraffe, mongoose, hyenas - were present, but quiet. Hippopotamus were the noisy exception, and can be heard grunting loudly out on the lake bed.
Lake Katavi, and a large surrounding area, is protected within Katavi National Park. This part of Tanzania is not greatly developed, and there remain significant wild areas. Nevertheless, poaching and other pressures on wildlife exist. Another threat is disturbance to water flows outside of the park, leading to drier than optimal conditions in the lakes and floodplains.
Tourism is the primary source of the income that allows these parks to exist. So while daily park rates for admission may seem expensive, particularly from the perspective of someone used to parks being free, the fees gathered are crucial to achieving the conservation aims of the park.
And for your park entrance fee, you get the place pretty much to yourself. Katavi was one of the least touristed of the game parks we visited in Tanzania. When you've seen how many vehicles roam places such as the Serengheti, Arusha or Tarangire, the wildness and relative solitude is welcome.