The third day of our Botswana safari included a morning drive in Chobe, a flight to Khwai, and an afternoon drive in the Khwai Concession. We followed our usual morning wake up routine in addition to having our bags ready to go, so we could spend as long as possible out on the game drive.
We were in the park by sunrise, and what an fiery sky it was! We should have known the bright orange was a warning for a super windy day. Due to the dust and wind, some of the animals stayed hunkered down, but it didn’t stop us from seeing baboons swing from tree branches while playing with a piece of clothing.
They were fun to watch, and I enjoyed the experience, though I did feel a sense of urgency when we were by ourselves watching baboons and eight other safari vehicles were 200 yards down the road. When that many vehicles are crowded around, there are usually cats.
I was surprised that our group would be willing to miss a cat encounter for baboons, but we’d already seen the big five, and the baboons were entertaining. Fortunately, we made it to the other vehicles in time to see yesterday’s lion cubs sauntering by.
With catching the tail end, I’m not sure if the mom was hidden in the bushes or if she left them behind while she went hunting. Regardless, getting to see the cubs three days in a row was a treat, especially while they are active versus lounging beneath a bush.
I told this story to my friend Ruth who has been on 25 safaris compared to my 4, and she thought I was crazy for not saying we could come back to the baboons! It’s funny because my friend Dom coined it perfectly. “You can tell what day people are on safari by looking at what they are stopped to see.”
It’s so true. When people are stopped to see impalas, you know they are on their first day of their first safari. As we’d drive by, she’d point out, “Newbie.” That’s what we were with the baboons!!
Speaking of baboons and impalas, they tend to hang around each other, but I didn’t snap another antelope picture until we came across a steenbok. Unlike the impalas which are generally found in large herds, the steenbok is solitary and pairs with a mate which is usually nearby. They stay in contact with scent markings through dung middens.
We only saw a single one today, and it was so little. It is the second smallest antelope to the Dik-dik. The Dik-dik is not found in this part of Botswana, however, so the Steenbok was the smallest antelope we would see.
We continued on, spotting a variety of birds including a Double-banded Sandgrouse, a Redfaced Mousebird, and a Go Away Bird so named because its chirp sounds like “Go Away.” Unfortunately, my zoom lens is not large enough for birds. I was hoping to share some of my friends Mike’s photos, but he is still combing through thousands!
Giraffes, warthogs, and black-backed jackals came next. Then some hippos, a vervet monkey, and a leopard (different from the leopard in the tree we saw yesterday).
While the warthogs are ugly, they are fun to watch run with their tail sticking up, so I always like to see them. However, the locals don’t like them so much as the wreak havoc on their gardens and chasing them makes it worse.
As a result, they call them Pumbaa which is Swahili for absentminded, careless, foolish, ignorant, lazy, stupid, and negligent. Thus, the warthog’s name in The Lion King.
The black-backed jackals with a rusty coat, black saddle along its back, and a bushy tail sort of looks like a fox. Jackals are typically found in pairs and often times waiting at a distance to scavenge after cats have left their kill. Though they do hunt small animals too.
Of course, with leopards being my favorite, I can’t leave out a leopard picture. They leopard trotted from tree to tree as it eyed a bird or something. As a result of being on the road while it was in the bush, my shots aren’t great. But hey. It’s a leopard and they are solitary and elusive, so I felt lucky to have already seen two in three days!
We had to head back toward Bakwena Chobe Lodge to catch our flight. Max, our guide, had clearly learned by now that we would want to stop along the way, and he correctly added in some time to account for stopping and for the crazy dust storm!
Sables, Injured Impala, and Kori Bustard
On the way out, we spotted sables, an injured impala, and the Kori Bustard.
It was my first time to see a sable antelope, so I got my security shot, which turned out to be the only shot as they trotted into the brush when we drove up. They are a beautiful mammal, and I was glad to at least see them.
The injured impala only had one horn (not antler), the difference being antlers grow back. It looked like it had a bite out of its chest. But Max thought that it got gored in a battle with another male impala, as they fight for their harems. He said they can recover, but it seems like it will likely be prey. Sad!
The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird native to Africa. The male Kori Bustard can be twice the size of the female and may be the heaviest living animal capable of flight. This ground-dwelling bird was so big, that even 100 yards away in a dust storm, my 18-200 lens could at least pick it out! Fortunately, we stumbled across another one for a closer shot a little while later.
Our last stop in Chobe National Park was to catch a glimpse of a male lion strolling through the scrub. He was a big fellow. What a way to end our morning!
Off to Kwhai
Back at Bakwena Chobe Lodge we sat for brunch, waved good-bye to the resident bushbuck, and bid our farewells to the excellent staff! Max drove us to the Kasane International Airport for our flight to Khwai. While we were on a 12-seater bush plane, the airport was not a bush airport.
It had an airconditioned building, security, and bathrooms. This came as a big surprise to me! We checked in with Mack Air, passed through security and waited in the large holding area until we boarded our propeller plane.
Unfortunately for people prone to motion sickness, the wind had not died down. Many on the plane suffered from the bumpy ride. Luckily, no one hurled.
In Khwai, our guide July greeted at a bush airport…no building, security or restrooms! Just an airstrip! It was only a short 15 minute drive to Sango Safari Camp operated by Bushways. We spotted some waterbucks as we passed through Khwai Concession.
I loved seeing how the Khwai Village folks lived with their handmade wire carts, soccer pitch, thatch roofed homes, and even an on your honor stand selling firewood like you see in US mountain towns. They sell the firewood to campers who go on safari on their own.
Upon arrival, the staff greeted us with exuberant song and dance. I particularly liked the men who joined in an acted like animals!
While the ladies carried our bags on their heads to our rooms, we sipped our welcome punch and listened to our orientation leader. The briefing always includes wake up times, meal times, safari times, and where and when we are allowed to walk unescorted around camp.
Sango Safari Camp
Sango Safari Camp is situated on a watering hole in the Khwai Concession. The small camp of six tents includes a main dining area, pool and animal observation deck. The tents feature beds protected by mosqito netting, cabinets, and bathroom with an outdoor shower.
They serves meals at a community table. As a result, we quickly met the rotating guests over the next three days. Most were couples from Europe. We also met an older couple from South Africa who now live in the Dallas area.
They said they have seen so many lion kills and hunts among everything else, that all they come to see are birds and flora! Whaaat?!? You’ll appreciate this story in later posts, so keep following!
We came to see the resident pack of wild dogs and any cats! Or at least that is what I told July when he asked where we had been first and what we wanted to see.
He immediately responded, “Well you won’t see the wild dogs. There was a fire, and they haven’t been here for two weeks! And if they do come around, you will only see them for five minutes because they never stop moving.”
I was sorely disappointed to hear this but held out hope when we climbed into our safari vehicle after lunch. We immediately passed the burn scar and the Khwai Village as we returned to the Khwai Concession which is owned by the Village who leases it to safari camps.
Two little kids started the fire, and it burned toward other camps. Luckily, the villagers were able to save the camps, but could you imagine traveling all the way to Africa only to find the area scorched all around where you were staying?
While I was gloomy about the wild dog news, my spirits certainly lifted when July took the four of us (two were still recovering from the plane ride) directly to a leopard!! He was absolutely giant…definitely, the biggest one I have ever seen.
Or maybe it was the fact that we could drive right up him! We’re yelling, “stop,” so we could get our security shot in case he left, and instead, we got closer while he laid in the shade of a bush without a care in the world. Since concessions allow vehicles off road, he has always grown up with a car next to him!
He was panting heavily from gorging himself on a big Red Lechwee he killed. It was too big and heavy for him to carry up the tree, so he hid the carcass beneath a slanted tree trunk about 50 feet away.
Despite having gorged himself, he went back for more. He yanked and tugged at that antelope while he intermittently gazed the area for lions and hyenas who might steal his kill.
I’m so mesmerized by leopards, I could have stayed there the rest of the afternoon to see if he would get it up to a high tree branch. But there was more to see! A young male lion in fact!
July was trying to find a female with cubs, but the tracks are difficult to find on the sandy roads with many tire tracks running over them by the afternoon. So, he found us this guy instead. He was lost from his pride. July thinks he probably fell asleep, and they left him!
He called weakly to them and to the female with cubs who doesn’t always stay with the pride as she hunts for her babies. It had to be the faintest roar I’ve heard! July said, he was being careful not to endanger the cubs by attracting other males from a different pride.
This guy lounged, yawned, licked his paws, rolled over, rubbed his eyes, and every so often mustered enough energy to walk a few yards before he settled down for another rest. His enormous paws made up for his less than mighty mane!
We watched him until sunset before we continued with a short night safari on the way back to camp. Back at camp, the staff greeted us with damp, refreshing towels (all the camps do this after drives).
And soon enough, we sat for dinner at the community table. The camp manager as well as one guide always joins for dinner. Given all of them had English names, I had wondered if they made them up. July’s was real because he was born in July, but the others translated their native names.
The food was served buffet style, so it wasn’t as good as what we had at Bakwena, but just to get food in the middle of the bush is a feat. That said, because the lodge is located in the Khwai Concession, the lodge must hire a certain percentage of villagers which created some language barriers and affected the usually bend over, back breaking service most camps provide. I’m being nit-picky here because Africa’s customer service is far better than most places in the United States.
We capped off the night admiring the milky way, the big dipper, and the southern cross! It was another fabulous Botswana safari day! ETB