This post will be mainly pictures, and will not include the sad image of the mother and still born infant, which is in another post. We saw elephants on virtually every drive; some singles, some 2-3 and some larger herds. Their behavior is always fascinating. Going past one small herd elicited a very angry response from one elephant, saying essentially “leave us alone”. Shortly after that another herd paid no attention to us at all. And both had little ones!
Fortunately it is quite common to see lions in Botswana, and Splash Camp is no exception. This time we saw lions on almost every drive. In 2019, on the other hand, we only saw the brothers Puffy and Big Man, but a number of times. There were females with cubs hidden somewhere in the swampy area but we had no luck seeing them.
Tom tells us that Puffy and Big Man were chased away by a group of five males; they have been designated the “Bad Boys” because they killed an adult female upon arrival, a very strange event since the female is the male lion’s means of preserving his genes! We saw all five but not all together.
There are now three prides in the Kwando concession. The five males will control all three prides. The first we encountered was the “no name” pride which consists today of two females and 7 sub-adult males. Here are a few views – all nine were present one early evening.
We later encountered two of the Bad Boys searching for the “One Eyed Pride” of two females and three cubs. This group was again hidden in the swampy area somewhere, and it was getting too dark for us to follow the one male.
Here is a great shot taken by Karen of one of the Bad Boys. The lighting in the late afternoon was perfect.
And an attempt by me to texturize another of Karen’s pictures.
One morning we encountered an interesting scene. Three of the Bad Boys were lurking in the grass in different locations, all intent watching four females from the “Splash Pride“. Tom explained that one or more of the females were probably ready to mate, and each of the boys wanted to be the preferred suitor. At one point the vehicle came between one of the males and the female group, and the male leaped up and ran towards the female. No line of sight was to be lost!
On another morning we heard from another vehicle that they were watching a mating scene. As we arrived the female was walking away with the avid male in tow. After a few minutes she laid in the grass, as did he. At one point she stirred and coughed, and he leaped up and attempted to mount her – he learned quickly that she was not in the mood!
And to finish, a brief lesson on lion mating. When the female is ready, she will be serviced every 10 minutes for the first day, then every 20-30 minutes for the next two days. The mating continues for up to 5-7 days. Needless to say, she mates with two or three different males during this process – so all think they are the father!
It is quite well known that when new males take over a pride, any cubs there will be killed because they want the young ones to be theirs. A smart female with cubs can hide the cubs, mate, then expose the cubs 2-3 weeks later and all is fine!
One particular cheetah in the Kwando concession has dominated the territory for his lifetime, maybe eight years. He is known as Mr. Special because he has demonstrated a proclivity to climb trees in order to enhance his search for prey. Usually this is a trait reserved for leopards.
We saw Mr. Special quite frequently during our stay at Splash Camp in 2019, but usually watched him for maybe an hour at a time. On this visit we were alone with Big Tom and AT, and decided to track him until he caught a meal. So we followed him though grassy plains, water and some treed areas, pausing frequently to rest and look around. Starting at about 9 am, we did not leave him until about four.
We presume he attempted to catch something before nine, but we watched him try to catch a red lechwe, made two attempts to catch and eat a small warthog and then made a half hearted try at an impala. Since we saw him the next morning and he was still thin, obviously he had a very unsuccessful day.
Out of curiosity we asked Big Tom what the cheetah success rate was at catching prey. Interesting comments. Per Tom, lions are successful maybe 1 in 10 tries, leopards 1-2, and cheetahs 2-3. He said the wild dogs are more like 3-4, probably because of the pack and their speed and stamina.
So when we first encountered Mr. Special this day, he was sitting on a small rise perusing an area of tall grass and water at a number of red lechwes about a hundred yards away. He eventually rose, stalked through the grasses and made his move. Unfortunately the lechwes ran into the water – they are much more agile in water than the cheetah.
Ready to Hunt
The target – red lechwes
Resting and looking
He wandered around, crossed the airport runway and got on a rise to look around.
Then he spotted a mother warthog with her little one, gave chase, and actually caught the small warthog by the rear end. Then the mother went after him, he dropped the little one and took off., chasing the warthogs for a few minutes. Then he gave up. So he sat under a tree for about 45 minutes.
Then lo and behold, mama warthog decided to come back into the same area. And then the chase was on. First the cheetah chased after the two warthogs. Then mama turned the tables as she spun around and chased the cheetah for several hundred yards before giving up.
The cheetah by now is wearing down. After a rest he made a weak stab at an impala with no success. He then spent the next hour or so lying around and occasionally rising up to see if anything was around. Eventually he wandered away and paused to have a deep drink.
So while we watched for 7 hours, Mr. Special made four distinct efforts to catch his dinner to no avail. At this stage we also gave up and headed for the lodge. Tough day for a cheetah!
Even though we have been to Botswana five times, we always see new behaviors, do something different, experience firsts and so on. This trip we had a number of firsts.
Normally ones sees a single jackal, or a pair. This time we encountered five jackals together, and we had a great time watching these animals play fighting, pushing and cavorting around.
Night drives – with the tracker shining a spotlight around the 180 degrees in front of the vehicle – can be quite interesting. It is not unusual for an elephant to be right in the vehicle’s path, which results in a huge roar which startles everyone. There are creatures who are usually only seen in the spotlight at night, and we were fortunate to see three for the first time. The African wild cat looked just like your own house cat, with its’ ringed tail. Then the spring hare bouncing along was a treat to watch – Tom called it an African kangaroo! Thirdly we saw a caracal, which resembles a European lynx.
We often see these spurfowls or francolins singly or in pairs. This time we saw mother and dad with two little ones in beautiful morning light.
Driving along Tom and AT spotted a large bush containing dozens of screeching starlings. Tom said it might be a snake. Sure enough we spotted a seldom seen – and highly toxic – black mamba looking for a meal. The snake poked its’ head above the branches – Tom said they can raise up half of their total length! Then it quickly slid its way towards the base of a large tree and disappeared around it. The snake was at least 6″ long and quite big around.
We spotted a large number of vultures circling around a certain area. So naturally we drove to that area. Sadly the vultures were circling above a female adult elephant who gad just given birth, and the infant was still born. The mother was pushing the little one trying to arouse it – to no avail. A very sad scene indeed.
Tom spotted a hawk-eagle high in a tree. Then we saw a monkey climbing up the tree toward the eagle, which eventually flew away, giving the monkey a long dirty glare. The hawk eagle was a first for us, and certainly the encounter was as well.
We have seen this beautiful bird in the past, usually flying in circles high above, or occasionally in a far away tree. This time was different. Tom spotted this one sitting on a branch on the other side of a smallish pond (pan) of water. It had its’ wings spread, and he guessed that the eagle had bathed and was drying out its’ wings. So we took a few images and waited for it to fly. No such luck. So Tom drove the vehicle across the pan to the other side. Now we had a great view of the eagle – but no flight. Eventually AT got off his seat and started to approach the bird – and it finally flew.
Overall some neat firsts. Each safari is different and always bring new experiences.
So what is a full day at a Botswanan safari camp like? Wakeup is at 5:30 am, followed by breakfast – usually around a campfire as dawn breaks – with muffins, porridge, coffee, tea and so on. Then at 6:30 our guide Tom says let’s go. And off we go to the safari vehicle, usually comforted by a blanket and a hot water bottle! Yes it can be cold in May – and gets colder as winter approaches in the southern hemisphere. So let’s take a look at the game we see.
First sighting is a pair of giraffes eating acacia leaves. Then we spot a ground hornbill, a rather unusual bird that prefers to not fly. Next a lone black-backed jackel striding across the grassland. Then several magpie shrikes in a bush – mostly black with white markings and a very long tail. A brief look at a bateleur eagle in a tree – often seen circling high above.
Then we spot a first for us – a family of four guinea fowl perched on a log. The little ones are super-cute!
Then we spot a monkey, then a fish eagle, both at some distance. And two Tsessebes – the “ferraris of the delta”, or the fastest of all antelopes. And several wildebeasts – members of the “Ugly Five” accompanied by several red-billed oxpeckers, seen often on many mammals eating ticks, flies and blood.
Next we get a really good look at an African hawk eagle in a tree, jumping from one limb to another, eventually taking off. Another first for us.
Next we meet several spur winged geese, the largest type of goose seen in this area.
Another first – we encounter five black-backed jackals together. Usually these are seen singly or in pairs. We enjoyed their play together. Then a dazzle of zebras – always fascinating to watch with their juxta positioning of stripes among several animals clustered together.
Tom then spots several hyenas running away from us, and we find a single hyena guarding the den.
And next we see a striped kingfisher, one of the few kingfishers that lives on bugs and lives far away from water. Beautiful birds!
The next bird is the well-known and very colorful lilac breasted roller, seen frequently in the delta, but sightings are never boring as this bird is so gorgeous.
We see several individual elephants, more rollers and other birds. Then another first. Tom sees a large bush with dozens of squawking starlings and guesses this activity is a sign of a snake. Sure enough we see the upper half of a dreaded black mamba poking out of the side of the bush. It then slides swiftly toward and around the back of a nearby tree. We are told that a bite from this snake can be deadly in less than an hour!
And then another beautiful bird – a little bee-eater.
Our next sighting is one most safari goers want to see. Two lions roaming the grasses in search of their hidden mates with their little ones. We enjoyed the sighting and following them for some time, but the sun was setting and they entered a swampy area that we could not. Maybe next time.
At this stage we found a quiet and safe spot to enjoy our “sundowners”, followed by some night driving and species spotting activity that I will cover in another blog entry. Finally back to camp for cocktails and dinner, followed quickly by an early bedtime.
We finally got back to our beloved Botswana after two years and COVID. Our primary goal was to spend several days at Elephant Havens, an orphanage for abandoned little elephants – I will write more about that in coming weeks. However we did take the opportunity to spend four days and nights at Splash Camp. Splash Camp is part of the Kwando Safaris holdings, and is located in the Kwando Preserve along with a sister camp, Kwara. We have been to this preserve on every one of our five trips to Botswana, and believe it is among the best in wildlife viewing and guide quality in Botswana. It is located adjacent to the NE side of Moremi, and in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Here is a map of Botswana, followed by a map of the Okavango Delta showing camp locations.:
Let’s start in this blog episode with a brief tour of Splash Camp. First we left via small plane (four passenger) from the Maun airport. Our pilot did open her eyes to fly!
We landed at Kwara Airport – nothing fancy, just a dirt runway – after making sure there were no wildlife visitors on the runway. We were greeted by our guide Big Tom Nkwazi and his tracker AT. Tom was our guide in 2017 at Little Kwara, and AT our tracker at Splash in 2019. So both are old friends. We loaded the safari vehicle and headed to camp – with a game drive on the way of course. I will get to the wildlife later. But let’s check out the camp.
So that’s Splash Camp in a nutshell. And yes there was/were lions in camp at night. Every night!