Monday, April 11, 2011

Botswana Safari Camps

Our journey to the Botswana safari camps began with a 30 minute flight on a Cessna light aircraft.

Short flight from Maun Airport to Khwai River Lodge
We were just 1,800 feet off the ground and close enough to begin spotting our first elephants. In the camps, elephants were affectionately called "ellies".
Khwai River Lodge, located in Moremi Wildlife Reserve, was our first destination where we were met by our bush guide Otsile ("O.T.") who led us through our adventures in the African savannah for the next 3 days. O.T. has a passion for the drive and ushered us through some very wild experiences. He was calm, focused, persistent, and very patient.
With O.T we saw:
herds and herds of impala, a favorite prey species, which were seen all over the reserve ...
Sole impala, the most numerous of antelope

Elephants found in small bachelor groupings, alone or in a matriarchal clan.

We sited the majestic Bateleur eagle.

Bateleur eagle with its enormous black head and body
 and orange-red beak and talons

and a pair of owls,
Milky Eagle Owls
They are usually found alone or in pairs. Their call is a deep
 gruff hooting call "hryu hryu hooo." They rarely hunt by day
 and roost in larger trees, preferably in the shade.

With O.T we were mock-charged (to Gus' chagrin) by a male, ear flapping elephant. Later we skirted past the open jaws of a partially submerged hippopotamus...

Love water, which is why the Greeks named them the "river horse."
 Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to
keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun.
...and we quietly followed two different solitary leopards... 

Are graceful and powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars.

...that were quietly moving through the bush. O.T. gave us a wealth of information about animal behavior, the sensitivities of each, lifespan, and place in the hierarchy of who eats who or what.

Just to list other animals we observed...


Typically, these fascinating animals roam the open grasslands in small
 groups of about half a dozen.
Burchell's zebra,

Burchell's zebras are the most common species. They live in small family
 groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young.
Perhaps the most beautiful antelope is the Greater Kudu
 with its majestic spiral horns and delicate face, and although
 fairly common, they are shy and prefer dense bush.

eland, bushbuck, blue wildebeest, red lechwe, puku, steenbok, and warthogs...

Warthog and Kids
Look fierce, yet are generally peaceful and often
 avoid fighting by running away or dodging into a burrow

...vervet monkey, a Nile crocodile..

Nile Crocodile
Has a somewhat deserved reputation as a vicious man-eater. The
 proximity of much of its habitat to people means run-ins are frequent.
 And its virtually indiscriminate diet means a villager washing clothes by
 a riverbank might look just as tasty as a migrating wildebeest. Firm
 numbers are sketchy, but estimates are that up to 200 people may die
 each year in the jaws of a Nile croc.

...and many varieties of colorful birds such as the green, blue and yellow swallow tailed bee-eater, the lilac-breasted roller,

Lilac Breasted Roller
This species is the national bird of Botswana.
the violet-backed starling, and the giant kingfisher.

Before we left, a group picture of...

From the left front: Kathleen Walsh (new friend from Arizona and daughter
 of Jim Walsh), O.T., Joan, Gus. From the left back row:Curt, Lynn, and Jim
 Walsh (new friend from Massachusetts)
Next our journey took us to Eagle Island Camp, located in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Another flight in a light aircraft and we settled in to our second tent-home. In this camp we toured the network of rivers in a high performance speed boat, canoed in mokoro boats, and took a helicopter ride over the marshes to view elephants, hippopotamuses, and giraffes.

We took a walking expedition to view the animals on foot and found ourselves in and among a troop of baboons who found us more curious than we found them.
Baboon Family
Baboons generally prefer savanna and other semi-arid habitats. These
 animals form large troops, composed of dozens or even hundreds of baboons,
 governed by a complex hierarchy that fascinates scientists. Males use shows
 of physical power to dominate rivals, and troop members spend endless hours
 carefully grooming one another to remove insects and dead skin.
We also visited a nearby village where the tribal peoples continue to live largely as they have for centuries; however they do have the benefits of satellite dishes and solar energy. We had an opportunity to learn from our guide, Setso, the many norms and customs of the tribal peoples. Setso spent time over meals with us, elaborating on the culture of his tribal heritage. He is engaged to be married and in order to marry, a man has to be approved by the bride-to-be's uncles. It can be a very arduous process involving transfer of livestock, property, and currency. If the man isn't honorable, or if the woman conceives a child before she is married, he must pay "damages" to the family of the woman, since her prospects of marriage are decreased. At this camp, our canoe was "bookended" front and back by pods of hippos. We observed African jacana birds with tiny baby chicks walking atop the lily pads. 

Next we moved on to our third and final camp.

Curt, Hazel (our bush pilot from our last flight), and Lynn
Hazel had just turned 21 and had received her pilots license 3 weeks before
after training for 6 months. Yet, what was most interesting, she said that
 she believed that the earth was flat.
Our third camp experience was again very different than the two before it. Savute Elephant Camp, located in Chobe National Park, was wonderful in its own way. Here we saw herd of more than 200 Cape buffalo. We saw a wild cat (serval), an African wild dog...

African Wild Dog
 These endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented
 social structure. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern, and all have
 big, rounded ears.
...tssessebe, ostrich, and the prize for us was to see two lions...

Lion I

Lion IIA

Lion IIB
Lion I stalked a herd of buffalo while Lion II was satisfied with just hangin' out and, a bit latter, nonchalantly shuffles off into the high grass.

Cape Buffalo Herds
 are mostly of mixed gender. They do have a few all-male herds, but these
 usually consist of old males. An African herd often has more than 1,000

Bull Cape Buffalo
Our guide, Mighty Awesome, pointed out a massive tree in the distance, an African baobab, also known as the Tree of Life. The tree was some thousands of years old — which was hard to grasp — and its trunk was over 30 feet in diameter. The elephants had done a number on this particular tree, tearing away deep and wide chunks of its cork-like bark. Awesome noted that the elephants go a bit mad for its water and can even seem drunk upon indulging in it. When Joan asked if the tree would survive, he told us that when the plains filled with water again in winter, the baobab would heal itself.

Baobab Trees
Slow-growing, and their life span often exceeds a thousand years

Lynn, Mighty Awesome, and Joan in front of a Baobab Tree
The African savannah has a soft yet harsh beauty.

As is customary, at we wound up our day we stopped for a "Sundowner" ... a safari tradition.

 "Sundowner" included fresh fruit, meat turnovers, white wine and
gin & tonics, of course! On the right Hazel, Lynn, and Mighty Awesome.
On the left: Gus, Joan, Lynn, and Curt.
On the right: Joan and Gus

 We experienced spectacular multi-colored sunsets each night...

The horizon dimmed with hues of pink, blue and lavender as the sun
 continued to sink, now showing behind the silhouettes of trees.

 and sunrises each morning...

Awakening sunrise...too beautiful

...with no signs of man or development surrounding us, except for the jeep which carried us into the bush. The quiet and the calming sounds of nature were soothing, along with the ever-present perfume of sage and basil. When we were set to leave the camps, we were satisfied to have witnessed the indescribable beauty of unspoiled nature. We'd seen 4 of the "Big Five". The rhinoceros eluded us, but we had wonderful experiences viewing the lion, leopard, elephant and the Cape buffalo, commonly known as the "Big Five".

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