Botswana Trip Report – Part 2

 

Game Drive
A game drive near Dumatau Tented Camp in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve. In the dry months there are large concentrations of elephant and buffalo in the Linyanti area, and various predators and their prey – usually plains game such as impala or zebra – are also frequently observed. Dumatau is also good for wild dog, which is regularly seen hunting on the edges of the floodplain.

Wednesday 27 May, 1998. More wild dogs on our morning game drive today! Kings Pool was really hopping. It was the same pack we had seen the previous day, but they were several miles from the floodplain in an area of broken veld. The pregnant alpha female, which had not been seen for quite a while, was thought to have secluded herself in a new den in the area. So it was with great anticipation that we followed the dogs, holding our collective breath each time one of them would enter an aardvark or warthog hole. Several times there were false alarms, someone exclaiming that the den had been found, only to have the dogs emerge a minute or so later and amble off. On one occasion Angus checked a hole which had been ‘inspected’ by two of the dogs and was not surprised to find a warthog huddled there.

We had some work to do, so we reluctantly left the wild dogs behind and drove off to inspect Savuti Camp. This small 8-bedded tented camp on the Savuti Channel is used for some of the Jacana overland safaris, which gives the group exclusive use of the camp. We were impressed with the lay-out of this compact, intimate camp. The cozy dining and pub area is under thatch, and some of the rooms have open – three-walled – ‘bathrooms with a view’.

Elephant
Elephant at the small waterhole in front of Savuti Tented Camp. In the dry season this waterhole is used right throughout the day by various animals, sometimes several species at once.

As there had been no local rain in the area for several months, the waterhole in front of the camp was seeing more and more activity every day, especially in the afternoon, according to the camp manager. While we were there, several elephants could be observed drinking in association with zebra, impala and a troop of baboons.

Then we were off again to Dumatau Camp, Angus skillfully negotiating the open Landrover along a particularly sandy track. At all the Botswana camps open vehicles, with customized raised seats, are used on game drives. This ensures excellent visibility even if there is a full house of six guests on board. For a while, driving through fairly dense mopane woodland, we focused our attention on the birds, twice spotting the very localized and very distinctive Arnot’s Chat. The birds were quickly forgotten when we encountered a small herd of elephant, which appeared to be very nervous and stressed, probably because they had several youngsters in the group. The matriarch could be seen whisking a couple of little ones to safety, while several more elephants turned their attention to us. With their massive heads lifted high, trunks raised and ears spread wide in a threatening display, they gave us the royal send-off.

Dumatau Camp was one of our favorites. It has a great setting, built under cool and shady mangosteen trees overlooking an enormous lagoon. Our accommodation was a superb tented room with a thatched roof and a ‘regular’ hinged door, as opposed to the zipper doors, which we found mildly annyoing. As at all the other camps, the tent had hot and cold running water, a flush toilet and an indoor shower. Dumatau goes one better, though, as the room also had an additional outdoor shower, which received the thumbs-up from Kathleen.

Our afternoon game drive along the tree-line provided some excellent close up views of lions which were lying up at the base of an anthill. It was the Selinda Pride, consisting of three young males, three females and three young cubs. We marvelled at the close-up views, scrutinizing scars both old and new on the bluish-golden skin and trying to fathom the intent of the flat glare in the several sets of yellow eyes fixed on us.

From there we drove down to the Zibadianja Lagoon, where there were literally masses of elephants drinking at the waterside, one group changing places with another in what seemed like a carefully choreographed parade. More and more elephants would emerge from the trees, speeding up as they caught sight of the water. There was dust and water flying everywhere and with the sun setting in the background, it became a tableau of silhouettes against hazy, golden light. Very ‘Africa’.

We stopped for a while at a hide overlooking the source of the Savuti Channel, identifying a variety of wading birds and watching a pod of hippopotamus, to use the currently popular collective term. As Angus had predicted, one of the hippos performed a manoeuver which none of us had ever seen before: it rolled around completely from a standing position, flashing its short, stocky legs and pale pinkish belly. It was now late afternoon and the hippos were starting to stir, calling at each other in anticipation or preparation of emerging from the water for their nightly foraging. In this area the local lions had become quite adept at taking hippo as prey, and on occasion lions are observed ‘surfing’, clinging to the back of a desperate hippopotamus trying to make it back to the safety of his water home.

We were already sold on Dumatau, but there was more to come. During pre-dinner drinks around the ground-level fireplace in front of the dining room, the mellow atmosphere was rudely shattered when a kudu burst out of the bush into a clearing on our right. Wide-eyed and frantic, it stared at us for a split- second and then scrambled around the fireplace, closely pursued by a female lion. It happened so quickly that we were frozen to the spot, looking at each other in disbelief. The kudu got away, but the incident was much discussed over dinner. The main course this evening was beef fillet with pepper sauce, served with potato au gratin and zucchini. As is the custom at all the camps, dinner was announced by one of the chef’s assistants, and we were pleasantly surprised by a spontaneous exhibition of dancing and singing by a very talented group of kitchen staff.

At around 10 pm most of the guests were again assembled around the open fire. Tim and Robin were the first ones to say good night, preparing to return to tent # 3. They declined an offer from one of the guides to accompany them to their tent. “We’ll be fine, it’s not far,” said Robin as they took their flashlight and started up the path. “That’s what the last nice couple said,” the guide joked. Because of the earlier activity in camp, a guide went ahead to check the path anyway. There was a pride of nine lions not 10 meters away, busy crossing the path, the males so big they had to duck under the balustrades. Watching the lions move away we all made mental notes never to decline an escorted walk back to one’s tent at night. When we later heard that Dumatau means ‘roar of the lion’, we were not surprised.

The next morning we enjoyed a boat ride and a guided walk at Dumatau. It was a pleasant change to be out walking but as outings go, it was rather quiet. There were more hippo in the lagoon and we were glad when Angus gave them a wide berth. En route to the airport later that morning, we made a detour to check on the Selinda Pride again. This time, we had a brief look at two small cubs with them. The lions had killed a zebra the previous night.

Linyanti Tented Camp, another small 8-bedded tented camp in the concession, is nearing completion and will be ready in July. The builders have been seeing superb game around the camp, which is being constructed in an area which is well frequented area by elephant, lion and the like. Linyanti Tented Camp will also be used for the Jacana Safaris and like Savuti Camp, it will be ideal for small groups.

Fireplace at Chitabe Camp
Enjoying sundowners around the fireplace at Chitabe Camp, adjacent to the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in Northern Botswana. The entire camp, which sleeps 16 guests, is raised off the ground on a teak deck, with walkways leading to the various rooms.

The next morning we flew to Chitabe Camp, which is situated on a beautiful island in the Okavango Delta, in a stand of ancient ebony, leadwood and sausage trees. Chitabe has an impressive layout, the entire 16-bedded camp being built on a raised teak deck, with linking walkways. This is especially appealing to first time visitors to Botswana and would be a good choice for anyone concerned about the type of ‘camp action’ we experienced in Dumatau. Our afternoon game drive was rather quiet until we came upon a pack of 14 wild dogs, which had not been seen in the previous couple of weeks. The alpha female was visibly pregnant. We observed them for as long as we could, alerting the other two vehicles in the area, but the dogs moved off before anyone else saw them. It was now dark and using a powerful spotlight, our guide found Honeybadger, Civet, Bushbaby and Largespotted Genet, in addition to elephant and giraffe.

We slept in at Chitabe the next morning, before visiting the nearby 8-bedded Chitabe Trails Camp, which is ideal for groups preferring an even smaller camp. It is identical to Chitabe in terms of style and decor, but is on the ground. We thought it was cute: compact and intimate, with leopards frequently seen around camp. A new plunge pool is being installed at Chitabe Trails and it will be ready by spring.

Then it was on to Jedibe Island Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Our landing at the Jedibe airstrip, close to the village of Jao, was the only one during our entire trip that was not strictly routine, as the pilot had to go around in order to avoid a child chasing a dog across the runway. Sefofane Air, the company who flew us around Northern Botswana, was most impressive: timely and safety-conscious with pilots whose professional demeanor belied their youthful appearance. Sefofane’s Cessna Stationairs all looked and felt like they were well maintained.

Returning to camp
Returning to camp after an afternoon outing on the waterways around Jedibe Island Camp. Jedibe is a typical ‘deep water’ camp in the heart of the permanent swamp. As there are no vehicles on the camp, activities are limited to mokoro outings, boating, fishing and walking on the islands.

At the airstrip we were picked up by motor boat for the 8-minute ride to this lovely water camp. The annual flood was cresting and water levels were very high, the jetty from the boats to the camp being almost under water. All the floodplains around the back of the camp had filled up making some new and interesting routes for the mokoro rides. Game in this area had been picking up and leopard, wild dogs and elephants were being seen. Even so, Jedibe is a camp which one visits for the water and everything associated with it. One only needs to stand in the lounge, looking out towards the jetty, to appreciate this. To the left, suspended over the bar, is an old mokoro. To the right is a huge new fishtank with indigenous fish such as Johnston’s Topminnow, Striped Robber, Southern Mouthbrooder, and Dashtail Barb. The Delta supports a great diversity of freshwater fishes, some 60 species having been recorded.

Our afternoon mokoro ride was on the quiet side, with rather too many mosquitoes. The birdlife in the area is fantastic, however, and we ticked off several interesting species such as Malachite and Giant Kingfisher, African and Lesser Jacana, Brown Firefinch and Copperytailed Coucal. We also visited the nearby village of Jao, where there were some interesting huts, lots of kids with dusty faces, friendly dogs, and rather expensive woven baskets. Kathleen added a new mammal to her life-list on the way back to camp – Spottednecked Otter.

relaxing in a hammock
Jedibe is a camp where relaxing in a hammock seems like the natural thing to do.

On the morning of May 30, we were up early, experiencing the best dawn chorus of the trip. Heuglin’s Robin, Swamp Boubou, Hartlaub’s Babbler and several other bird species tried to outdo each other in welcoming the new day. By 0730, fortified with some coffee, we were enjoying a boat ride with Mark and George to Lizard Island. The scenery could not have been more beautiful. In the soft morning light all we could see were tree-fringed islands, beds of papyrus, and lagoons dotted with waterlilies. The Delta is always picture- pretty, and all the more so in winter when the color mosaic of brown, green, blue and gold is at its most impressive. There is much to be said for the ‘big game’ camps, but a couple of days at Jedibe can do the soul a lot of good. Relaxing in this watery wilderness is a very soothing experience. In a camp where hammocks are part of the furniture, tranquility is just a fishing trip away. (To be continued).


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