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.