Day 5 – Botswana Safari in Moremi Game Reserve

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Our fifth day of our Botswana safari was the most chaotic, adrenaline pumping day of safari I have ever had.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Day 3- Chobe and Khwai, when asked by our guide what I wanted to see, “I said cats and wild dogs.”

July immediately responded, “Well you won’t see the dogs.  We haven’t seen them for two weeks.  And even if you do see them, they don’t stay still long, so you will only see them for a couple of minutes.”

Well, we got word from campers that the wild dogs returned last night.  As a result, all the safari vehicles from the nearby camps were out looking for them in Moremi Game Reserve.  Lucky for us, KB, the other guide from our Sango Safari Camp, spotted them.  He radioed July with the direction the dogs were headed. 

If you have followed my previous posts, you know our guide July is very soft spoken.  We play telephone from the front to the back seat and fill in the missing words to get the answers to our questions.

Suddenly, he turned and shouted, “HOLD ON!”  There was no doubt that we heard him!

Wild Dog Chase in Moremi Game Reserve

The next thing we knew, we were on our own roller coaster ride as we careened along the sandy, winding, and bumpy roads. With the cold air blowing in our face, we grabbed hold of the bars on the seat backs and braced ourselves as we banged, jolted, and bounced over the rough terrain in Moremi Game Reserve.

Anxious with anticipation, we looked in all directions.  July whipped around a turn and screeched to a stop on the side of the forest.  No sooner did we catch our breath, than four wild dogs appeared to our right!  We were like WHAAT?!?! It’s amazing how good the safari guides are!

Just as with tracking the lion cubs yesterday, we were the first on the scene and feeling jubilant!  One dog marked its territory near our safari vehicle, while three others hovered in the bush.  They only stuck around for about two minutes before they trotted through the brush.

So, the “chase” began.  As they darted through the grasses, we bounced along the roads.  We caught up to them when they met up with the rest of their pack. This time, there were six dogs, two pups, and about six safari vehicles.

The dogs spotted an antelope in the distance and loped toward it.  The safari vehicles merged into a line and followed along sandy roads and through muddy water.  Once again, they took another two-minute break.  We continued with this pattern probably three more times until we reached an open meadow, where the guides positioned the safari vehicles in a semi-circle along the road.

The dogs took a moment to play as while they kept moving. My excitement level was so high, that I lost track of all time.  I thought for sure we had been following them for an hour, but looking back at my photo sequence, it was only 20 minutes!

wild dogs playing in moremi game reserve

Wild Dog Hunt in Moremi Game Reserve

Soon the six dogs formed a line and slinked toward the bush where a herd of impalas grazed. Their hunt was on while they left the pups behind!  July whizzed around to the other side of the trees where we waited.  At this point, the five minute wait felt like an eternity.

All at once, the herd of impala scattered from the trees.  They leaped in the air as they bolted in every direction.  In the meantime, we wondered where the dogs were.  Unbeknownst to us, the dogs don’t hunt in a pack, but individually. They had split the herd into smaller groups. Our heads swiveled like that of a bobble-head doll.

impala flushed from the woods by wild dog

We spotted one running toward the large herd, but not fast enough to catch anything.  As a result, we motored to the other side of the trees where another dog was in pursuit of a single impala.

The impala sprinted impossibly fast across the grassy plain as the dog gained ground, racing at least 20 mph. We grabbed hold of the bars frantically shouting in disbelief and amazement as July gunned the safari vehicle.  We couldn’t even keep up with the chase!! 

In that five minutes of sheer chaos, two dogs took down impalas.  WARNING: Stop reading if you can’t appreciate the circle of life.

Wild Dog Kill – STOP Reading If You Are Sqeemish

While we didn’t see the initial capture, we reached the dog with a grip on the impala’s neck, still trying to take it down.  The impala, with a torn open belly, groaned in agony as it fought for freedom.  This part of the kill was terribly gruesome and hard to watch especially because the wild dogs do not kill the antelope before they start eating it. 

wild dog taking down impala in moremi game reserve

I was grateful when the poor impala succumbed to its fate and its suffering ended.  The single dog buried its face in the impala’s body cavity as it tore pieces of flesh from the carcass.  Blood stained the dog’s face as droplets pooled on the dog’s nose, jowls and tongue.

After it devoured its share, the dog called over the rest of the pack which was at the other kill hidden behind a termite mound.  When it trotted off for a minute, we drove by the carcass to reposition the vehicle and a mouse scurried by.  I was surprised to see a scavenger so soon!

The dog returned with the pack which yanked and tugged at the bloodied and shredded the impala.  In thirty minutes, their once slender bellies bulged in fullness.  A wild dog kill is much different than a leopard kill, which takes days to eat.

While it is gory to watch, the whole process is quite interesting.  The dogs later regurgitate their food for the young and their pack.  Sharing the food spreads disease, and it is one reason why the wild dogs are an endangered species.  Also, they are not discerning, so they will go after farmers’ livestock which gets them killed.

Wild Dog Kill with Fetus

Toward the end of the feeding frenzy, I opted for some individual dog shots because capturing five heads down in the carcass really isn’t the greatest photo.  I wanted some shots with the dogs’ faces.

I spotted one that had something dangling from its jaws.  I thought it was an intestine, but I got more than I bargained for.  It was a fetus that he rested on another dog’s back!!!  ICK!  I’m so glad I didn’t know that when I was taking the photos. 

At this time of year, most impala are pregnant, so I guess it should not have been a surprise but learning they were eating an unborn baby churned my stomach. 

Overall, however, I cannot explain the high of watching any kind of animal hunt, especially a wild dog chase because of the frantic chaos!  From the first sighting at around 6:45am to leaving the kill around 8:15am, was a massive adrenaline rush.

Male Lion Sighting

For those with a queasy stomach, you can start reading again.  We moved on to watching two male lions with magnificent manes resting in the grasses.  We didn’t stay too long as the small bushes obstructed our view, and frankly you really can’t top the wild dog hunt.

In fact, I feel silly even going on about the day, but we had a blast.  We spotted some zebra before we finally stopped by a watering hole for our coffee break.  At the watering hole, hippos yawned, fish eagles circled, and the jacana bird walked on water thus earning its nickname the Jesus bird. From afar, we could see the vultures gliding in the blue skies above the fresh impala carcass.

More Dogs

Upon returning to Sango Safari Camp, we passed by the dogs, yet again.  This time they were resting in the shade with full bellies and nearly clean faces.  It seemed like they might stay put for longer than two minutes, but who knows! 

By our second day on safari, we had seen the big five, and by the fifth day we had seen the endangered wild dogs kill two impalas.  At this point, there really wasn’t more that we could ask for and we simply enjoyed our restful afternoon at camp while elephants came for water.

elephants at the watering hole at sango safari camp

The previous day, the staff had suggested we take a mokoro ride for one of our safari outings.  Initially, I was slightly reluctant for fear of missing out on seeing the wild dogs.  Also, I had hoped to get in these canoe-like boats pushed by guides with stick (similar to a gondola) in the Okavango Delta where there is more water.

The rest of the group, however, wanted to do it, so we agreed the night before to reserve the polers and the mokoros. 

Mokoro Ride

We drove to the shallow channel, as we snapped photos of more elephants along the way.  The polers gave us life vests to set on the back of the chairs and helped us, two at time, to climb into the stable, flat-bottomed crafts. The mokoros used to be made of wood, but in order to preserve the trees, they are now made of fiberglass.

Hippos

The polers pushed each boat into the tranquil waters.  They steered us toward the hippos first, but kept a healthy distance, as hippos are the deadliest animals in the bush.  Fiercely territorial, they are responsible for 3,000 human deaths a year!

Hippos, weighing in at 3,300 lbs, are the third largest animal in Africa behind the elephant and rhino.  Their aggression, their ability to run 18 mile per hour, and their large, sharp incisors make them a formidable opponent not to be approached!

hippo yawning

After capturing one yawn, which is a warning sign, we reversed course, while stopping to admire water lilies, reed frogs, and birds.  Suddenly being interested in botany and birds, we had to laugh.  We were turning into the South African couple we met two days previously, who only goes on safari for birds and flora because they have seen to many kills to count!

Small Five

Well, not really, because I never tire of lions and leopards, but we sure enjoyed the change of pace.  The mokoro ride, tranquil and peaceful, provided a new perspective of Africa. We got to focus on the tiny things, which steered to conversation to small five, which correspond in name to the big five.

mokoro ride khwai

They are the ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, and elephant shrew. While I knew the small five existed because I saw three of them in Tanzania, I never connected the names (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant). So that was fun to learn. We didn’t focus on those, but instead admired the bee eaters, dragonflies, flowers, kingfishers, and frogs.

We enjoyed our sundowner on the banks of the channel before returning to the safari vehicle.  The guides had to scare off some buffalo blocking our way.  It made me realize how much we are really entrusting our lives to them.

buffalo in the river in botswana

While I might know what to do while hiking in Colorado upon encountering a moose or a bear, I hardly know what do in a savannah of wild animals. 

I feel like a broken record, but we couldn’t have asked for a better day on safari in Botswana.  In fact, of my four safaris (Tanzania safari, Kenya safari, Zambia safari, and Botswana safari), this day in Moremi Game Reserve ranked as my single best day in the bush!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

4 thoughts on “Day 5 – Botswana Safari in Moremi Game Reserve

  1. Holy moly, what a day?! I’m glad you included the pics, definitely more gruesome than I imagined. Craziness!
    Ah, the circle of life…glad it was an awesome day!

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