Special Moments on Safari

Every safari trip has those moments that seem special, that you will remember for a long time. We have these each trip, and this recent visit to Botswana was no exception. Of course our two days at Elephant Havens was very special; I have covered that visit in a separate blog. What I want to do in this blog entry is to try to relate a few moments that were special, and to try to convey that to you. And you should know that we love to find wildlife then sit/drive and observe that wildlife for a sustained period. So here are some moments.

Leopard – Gomoti Plains

We saw leopards several times at Gomoti Plains, including an encounter at night when we surprised a female leopard with two cubs in the darkness. But our real special moment occurred late on our first afternoon drive. We spotted the leopard creeping through the grass, then along a road. We swung the vehicle around and followed her to a large bush; our guide and driver pulled the vehicle up quite close to the bush. We then watched the leopard for about ten minutes, strolling around the bush and ignoring us, trying to detect the scent of another leopard. Then she sat close to the passenger side of the car and stared intensely at Georgia. Karen and I really thought the leopard was going to jump in her lap! An adjacent guide apparently thought so too, started his engine, and defused a potentially serious situation.

Mr. Special – Splash Camp

We encountered a particular cheetah several times during our stay at Splash Camp. He was known as Mr. Special by the guides, particularly because he climbed trees, which most cheetahs do not do. He is a beautiful animal, and seemed oblivious to us, focusing on spotting prey, marking his territory and gazing around the area.


Following the Dogs – Splash Camp

The African painted dogs, an endangered species, are one of my real favorites in the wildlife kingdom. They are a delight to see and observe. One afternoon at Splash we came upon a pack of eight dogs on the hunt. The alpha female was heavily pregnant, and having a hard time keeping up. Not that keeping up was so easy for us in the vehicle either. Nevertheless we followed the pack for a while across the plains and into the trees, through the trees then lost them. After driving around the outside of a copse of trees, we spotted an impala going into the copse. Then it immediately did a 180, raced into the open followed closely by a lone dog. We drove around and finally found the rest of the pack at a kill; the lone dog had evidently made the kill, ate its’ fill and was sitting on the sidelines.

Then things go interesting. Someone spotted a leopard in the adjacent bushes; it was closely observing the dog feast, waiting its’turn at the kill. It got a little adventuresome and wandered away from the bushes and into the open. Of course the dogs saw it and chased it up a tree. Next we see a lone hyena wandering into the area. For 10-15 minutes the hyena would edge up to the kill, the dogs would chase it away, biting at the hyena’s legs. The hyena screeching was intense. Suddenly the lone hyena was joined by a second, and the pair diverted the dogs and one hyena stole the kill.

For the next 20 minutes or so, the hyena ate and chased back the other, and eventually three others. She was not sharing her food! During this period the dogs crept away and the leopard was seen watching hungrily. Not this night!


Elephants – Splash Camp

We arrived at the main area for afternoon tea one day. There was a herd of elephants (15-20)  right behind the firepit, and beginning to wander in between units 1-3 adjacent to the main area. Nonchalantly eating leaves after a lengthy hydration at the water hole. They continued to move between the units. Georgia and Jan were unable to leave their unit, and were thrilled that the elephants were right up to their deck. Pro and TJ tried to shoo them away unsuccessfully. They eventually moved along at their own pace. We boarded our vehicle, drove around to the other side of camp and spent 30 minutes or so right in their midst, as they had generally switched for leaves to grass. What a great experience!


Tracking a Leopard – Splash Camp

The guides and trackers at Kwando Camps are superb trackers. We have observed this on many occasions. On this day TJ spotted fresh leopard tracks in the dirt road and we decided to try to follow the cat. We did so for 30-45 minutes, and AT was able to continually find fresh tracks. Eventually the tracks veered off into the grass, and we followed. Suddenly we almost literally ran into the leopard, who raced into a nearby stand of trees. We searched for a half hour to no avail. No photos! That’s why this cat is considered to be so elusive!


Big Man and Puffy – Splash Camp

We had great enjoyment in monitoring the movement of the two male lions named Big Man and Puffy over several days. Most of the time they were together. But one day they were separated, and Big Man poached an impala carcass from a pair of wild dogs. He basically hid in the reeds along the swampy area while he enjoyed his repast. Meanwhile his buddy Puffy was looking for him, wandering across the grassy plains and occasionally stopping on a hill and calling for Big Man with  huge roars.

Genet – Sable Alley Camp

Night drives can be productive. The driver both drives and waves a spotlight around and up into the trees. We have seen owls, large cats, elephants, antelope, bush babies and so on. Light is not to be flashed on the elephants in particular so we have had several near collisions on the road with rather large bull elephants! Noisy experience indeed. At Sable Alley we encountered genets two nights in a row. These are long, lean omnivorous cat-like animals that are 2-7 lbs and 16-24″ in length plus a tail as long as the body. They are nocturnal and live in woodlands.


Elephants at Dusk – Sable Alley

One afternoon at Sable Alley, down at the river area, we discovered two male lions lolling on the grass. They had clearly had a huge meal and were resting. After a short while – no action – we moved along and watched a small herd of elephants (10-15) approach and crfoss the stream. After a while they moved back and we positioned ourselves to get a few neat shots backlit by the setting sun, swirling in dust. Great to have a guise with a photographic sense.


Lions – Sable Alley

Another afternoon we heard there were two male lions about 30 minutes away. After a hectic drive, we encountered the two wandering through the wooded area. We bravely tried to follow with some success. Eventually they came out into an open grassy area, and we watched them cross together. At that point the two sat together, and proceeded to nuzzle one another. Great look!


Chobe National Park – Lion Pride

Shortly after our arrival at Muchenje Safari Lodge, we did an afternoon drive. While we were driving along the highway, before we got into the park, we spotted lions along the road. This turned out to be a group of eight young lions, mostly males. We went back and forth on both sides of the tress to watch their activities. The lions were spotted later within the confines of our camp!


Elephants on the Chobe

Chobe National Park has one of the largest populations of elephants in Africa. A favorite activity of ours is a boat ride on the river, with the highlight always being the elephants swimming across the channel to the grassy island. This visit we also were thrilled by the elephants mud bathing; they cover themselves with mud after getting to the island in order to protect themselves for the sun. An added highlight was a drive along the water within the park, where we encountered literally hundreds of elephants of all ages, including lots of little ones. And we were amazed at how close they walked to us while we were sitting in the boat, and in the safari vehicle. Watching elephant behavior is absolutely fascinating, and this is a perfect location for this.

Botswana Revisited

We recently returned from our fourth trip to the beautiful country of Botswana, where we enjoyed 16 days on safari at four camps, all basically new to us. Three were located in the Okavango Delta, close to different parts of the Moremi National Park. I thought an evaluation of the four camps might be of interest. I have included a few images, but all four camps can be reviewed in detail on various web sites.

It is worthwhile to explain the things that we value. Generally we stay in four star camps. If your interest is elegance and gourmet dining, go five star and stay at a Wilderness Camp. Or And Beyond. We like reasonable comfort in the “tent” we stay in – large bed, good bedding, separate bath, indoor/outdoor showers, double sinks, a little sitting area and ideally a view of some kind. The food needs to be basic home cooking; we saw less buffets this time and more featured menus but the food was good. We like smaller camps – no more than 20 people. But what is most important to us is the game viewing experience. So we like variety, variable terrain, good quantities of each species, different species, yes the cats, but also elephants, giraffes and for sure wild dogs. And the other key factor is the guide (and tracker if applicable). We want pleasant guides with experience and knowledge, those able to track and find dogs, a leopard and so on. Above all we want guides who are photography sensitive, and know how to place the vehicle to get the best visibility, lighting and so on. And guides who are sensitive to what their guests like to do. In fact we have several Botswanan guides who are now personal friends.


Gomoti Plains

The first camp was Gomoti Plains Camp, part of Machaba Safaris, who also operate Machaba and Little Machaba Camps. This camp has capacity for 20 people. Gomoti was opened in 2017, and is located in the southeast part of the delta. This camp has a variety of habitats including mopane woodland and broad floodplains along the Gomoti River area. During our visit, the whole area was very dry, and the river extension normally in front of the lodge was totally dry. We found the camp itself clean and fairly modern for  a safari camp, with no particular distinguishing features. The individual units were classic tents on wood floors, with a zippered front access, a large bed, double sinks, indoor/outdoor showers and a commode. Overall the food was served at individual tables midday, and at a long outdoor table in the evenings. The food was reasonably good. Guides did not generally eat with the guests. The camp did provide a lovely evening outdoors in the bush with dancing, singing, great companionship, and a very good meal. We rated this camp as a 3.5/5.0.

The game viewing at Gomoti was average at best, probably because of the dry conditions. We saw lions and leopards several times; the primary focus of the guides seemed to be cats. Otherwise the herds of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, cape buffalo and so on were sparse and smaller than normal. Bird-life was spotty, and our guide had little interest in the birds. Unfortunately our guide was not photography oriented at all; it is a good idea to stress your interest in photography when you make your booking. Positioning, lighting, visibility are all key. We would not return to this camp nor to this location on the south end of the delta.

Splash Camp

Splash is a new camp in the established reserve of Kwara; it has 12 rooms.  This reserve is located adjacent to the Moremi, north of the location for Gomoti. We had been guests at both Kwara and Little Kwara on several occasions; these two camps have been demolished and replaced at a different location within the reserve with Splash Camp. Kwando Safaris, the owner, is also currently building a new version of Kwara, scheduled to open this fall. Splash Camp opened last year, and has a 24 guest capacity with groups of six or more allowed to reside in Splash Enclave; this basically provides separate dining and lounging, ideal for families. Thus we were treated like a family, with dining at our own table in our own lodge. Food was very good, and our waitress Base was a delight. Our guide TJ and the general manager Pro ate with us every meal.

Individual “tents” were more like cabins, but well laid out and comfortable. A full deck and an outdoor shower provided very nice views of the local waterhole and usual game – elephants, baboons, impala and some dogs.

We return to this area for two main resons. One, we like Kwando’s practice of having a guide and a tracker on each safari vehicle. Two sets of eyes make for more successful game finding, especially when tracking cats or dogs. Two, we have found the wildlife quantity and quality always superb in this reserve. This visit did not disappoint. We saw Special, a “special” cheetah, several times. We saw leopard as well. And both female and male lions, including Puffy and Big Man. In addition the wild dogs were encountered on several drives. Elephants were numerous, as were giraffes, zebras, buffalo, wildebeast, kudu, tsessebe, waterbuck and of course the ubiquitous impala. While the area was fairly dry, there was enough water in places to attract game.

Sable Alley Camp

Sable Alley is also quite new, just in its’ second season, and has 12 rooms. It is located in the Khwai Private Reserve, east of Kwara and adjacent to the Moremi. The terrain is quite varied and interesting. Near the lodge there are extensive mopane forests and woodlands. Beyond that are substantial grasslands, and along the main channel great expanses of wetlands. The main facility is large, well appointed and very attractive. Each area offers great views of a natural waterhole, really an extension of the river system, which contained a good quantity of hippos.

This place had more of a Wilderness Safari lodge. Diners ate separately from one another, and typically the guides did not intermingle with the guests. Again the food was quite good. The individual lodgings were tented on wooden floors, each with a deck overlooking the pond.

Game viewing was quite good; we saw lots of elephants, differing species of antelope, giraffe, zebras, wildebeest, several lions but no leopard or cheetah. One group did see a leopard briefly one evening.


Muchenje Safari Lodge

This lodge offered a real change of pace, as it is located overlooking the Chobe River alongside Chobe National Park. It is located on the west side of the park away from Kasane, so the drive from Kasane is about an hour across the park on a paved road. The lodge and 11 individual casitas are located several hundred foot above the flood plain, and offer magnificent view. Built in 1996, the whole facility is African in decor and feel, and has high ceilings, lots of wood and stone floors. Decking is substantial, and the pool area is the best we have seen in Botswana. The managers are old friends from our first visit to Meno a Kwena Camp, so the comfort level here was very high. The food was excellent.

We love this area because one can do boat rides on the Chobe River, which offers wonderful, closeup views of elephants in the water, hippos and buffalo out of the water, lots of wonderful colorful bird life and a variety of reptiles like crocs and monitor lizards. One day after our three hour cruise, we drove along the park waterfront and encountered huge numbers of elephant, along with lots of giraffe, baboons, some lions, kudu, waterbuck and other assorted wildlife. The closeness of the elephants to our vehicle was simply stunning.

We also did  an afternoon ride in the park itself, and encountered a pride of eight lions right along the highway. We also visited a local village and school, quite interesting.



A Visit to Elephant Havens

As many of you know, we have been an enthusiastic supporter of Elephant Havens, a charitable organization founded in order to create an elephant nursery near Maun, Botswana. We met Boago (Bee) Poloko, one of the co-founders, in 2015 at Abu Camp, where he was the elephant handler for their captive herd of then six elephants.  Bee is featured in the documentary, Naledi, which can be seen on Netflix. Bee introduced us about a year ago to Debra Stevens and Scott Jackson, a couple in Dallas who have done a heroic job in raising the resources to fund the dream of the founders of Elephant Havens. The goal of the nursery is simply to rescue orphaned elephants, provide love and nourishment to raise these little ones, and to ultimately release them back into the wild.

The orphanage is being built on 11 acres along the banks of the Thamalakane River about 20 miles NE of Maun. They have a staff of about 13 people, several of whom worked with Bee at Abu, and they all love elephants. Karen and I were thrilled to spend two days with the team at the orphanage on our recent trip to Botswana. We were able to get to know the team members, and to interface with Mmamotse, a two year old orphan who is the facility’s first resident – and she literally owns it and the hearts of anyone who meets her. Including us!

We were very excited and humbled that Mmamotse’s boma – the place where she spends her nights – was named “Grant and Karen John Boma”. To Bee, Debra and Scott – what an honor and a thrill!! Thanks so much, but Karen and I are among your most enthusiastic supporters. I had the privilege while we were there to take some drone pictures of the facility, some of which is still under construction. So in this post I want to introduce you to Mmamotse, to the Elephant Havens team and to the facility. My hope is to influence in some way both existing and potential donors to visit and support Elephant Havens on your visit to Botswana. Or you can visit their web site at http://www.elephanthavens.org and make a much needed contribution. And if you have not considered a visit to this wonderful and magical country, you must do so. Karen and I will – as often as we can.


Mmamotse is a two year old female elephant who has resided at Elephant Havens since the end of 2008. She is warm, friendly, intelligent, playful, curious, beautiful, (somewhat) cuddly and a great kisser with her trunk. She has explored pretty much every square inch of the 17 acres, and is continuously doing so. She will make a wonderful big sister to future residents as they arrive. Words are not enough to describe her. Nor are pictures – although I will include a few in this blog. One must meet and get to know this little (?) creature.


Elephant Havens Staff



The Facility from Ground Level

And from a Drone