Big Cats, Birds & Bubble Baths, Botswana

Oliver Greenfield

22 Dec 2015

Days 1 & 2: Central Kalahari Game Reserve & Nxai National Park

A tap on the shoulder and the words ‘we are being watched’ are a memory that will stay with me for a long time, so let me explain the situation. I was in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of the largest game reserves in Africa, a vast expanse of semi desert. Having woken up to a beautiful sunrise from the comfort of my bed, I had set out on a bushman’s walk. Scupa, my bushman guide, was just explaining to me how he would go about making a poison arrow and what the cure was if you accidentally cut yourself with said poisoned arrow, when Chester, another guide, tapped me on the shoulder and said those four words to me. 

Sure enough, as I looked up there was a lioness stood staring fixedly at us from across the other side of a waterhole. 

Now, we were in no immediate danger as fortunately there was a natural barrier between us and her, so under Scupa’s directions we slowly made our way back up the path we had taken and towards the lodge. Back at the lodge we jumped into a vehicle and went round to the waterhole to get a closer look at her - and what a beauty she was! After trailing her for a while we lost sight of her as she found a nice shady spot to relax. We made the decision to carry on with our intended activity and drove a safe distance away to continue our walk.

The walk was fascinating as Scupa taught me how to survive in the bush by demonstrating how to get water from a tuber, make fire and set traps to catch birds and antelope. He made all this look as easy as a trip down to the local supermarket! I am still yet to discover the cure to one of the poison arrows though…

My next day was spent in Nxai National Park. This park is host to thousands of zebra as they migrate from the Boleti River back to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, unfortunately they had not yet reached Nxai nevertheless there was still plenty to see. On the afternoon drive we encountered an impressive lioness and her two 10 month old cubs as well as plenty of general game such as springbok, wildebeest, ostrich and plenty of birdlife.

Days 3 & 4: Baines Camp & Kwando Lagoon

For me, there is nothing quite as relaxing as soundlessly gliding down one of the waterways of the Okavango on a mokoro. This is exactly what I got on my afternoon spent at Baines camp. We drifted past banks of reeds and papyrus, spotting a multitude of different birds from the small malachite kingfisher to the African fish eagle. I was even joined by a tilapia that decided to leap out of the river and straight into my lap, giving me quite a shock. Luckily, Rob, my mokoro guide, kept the boat steady as I tried to relocate the fish back into the river otherwise I think I would have ended up in the water with it!

Eventually we came to a hippo pool, where the big male decided to take some interest in us and made his way over to investigate. As he neared he decided perhaps we weren’t as interesting as first thought and made a u-turn back to the main pod but not without a couple of big yawns to show us who was boss. 

As we made our way back upstream we were joined by a herd of elephants who were making the most of the lush grass by the river. A fantastic experience to be looking up at these mighty animals from ground level. Finally we finished in a lovely spot for the obligatory gin & tonic sundowners. I thought that my afternoon couldn't get any more relaxing but on returning to the lodge I found the deck of my room lit up by candles and a huge bubble bath, larger than I’ve ever seen, all prepared for me. It was absolute bliss to lie there listening to the hippos and watching yet more elephants pass by.

Next morning due to an early departure by plane my guide suggested we do a short drive as we made our way to the airstrip and what an amazing short drive it turned out to be… We found a stunning female leopard relaxing in a tree, as we arrived she became a little unsettled but because we sat quietly watching her she relaxed again. Soon after finding her it started to rain lightly accompanied by distant thunder, the leopard took this opportunity to start a hunt on some nearby impala. It was absolutely fascinating to watch her as she used certain vantage points to work out her best approach.

She patiently made her way closer to them. Unfortunately, the game was given away by some birds who spotted her and made warning calls. Undeterred, the leopard found a shady spot and settled down to wait for a while before trying the hunt again. Unluckily for me it was time to get to the airstrip and my flight up to the Linyanti region and the border with Namibia.

Due to the rains in this region a lot of the game has already dispersed away from the river. Nevertheless, we set off on our morning drive to make our way over to what used to be a river many many years ago and where Carlos, my guide, thought there would be lots of animals. The drive there was quite long but when we reached our destination it was completely worth it as we saw large herds of animals with the highlight being a large herd of eland leaping over each other in their haste to get some distance between us and them.

Next morning due to an early departure by plane my guide suggested we do a short drive as we made our way to the airstrip and what an amazing short drive it turned out to be… We found a stunning female leopard relaxing in a tree, as we arrived she became a little unsettled but because we sat quietly watching her she relaxed again. Soon after finding her it started to rain lightly accompanied by distant thunder, the leopard took this opportunity to start a hunt on some nearby impala. It was absolutely fascinating to watch her as she used certain vantage points to work out her best approach.

She patiently made her way closer to them. Unfortunately, the game was given away by some birds who spotted her and made warning calls. Undeterred, the leopard found a shady spot and settled down to wait for a while before trying the hunt again. Unluckily for me it was time to get to the airstrip and my flight up to the Linyanti region and the border with Namibia.

Due to the rains in this region a lot of the game has already dispersed away from the river. Nevertheless, we set off on our morning drive to make our way over to what used to be a river many many years ago and where Carlos, my guide, thought there would be lots of animals. The drive there was quite long but when we reached our destination it was completely worth it as we saw large herds of animals with the highlight being a large herd of eland leaping over each other in their haste to get some distance between us and them.

Days 5 & 6: Gunn's Camp & Khwai Tented Camp

Another afternoon and another opportunity for a mokoro trip. This time we encountered a bachelor group of buffalo feeding on the side of the channel, not a group to mess with. This situation turned into a bit of a stand-off as we were willing them to move away so we could pass safely while they were busy trying to figure out what our small group were up to. Our powers decided to start turning around and just as they did this the buffalo decided it was also time for them to move off and made a swift exit allowing us to pass safely.

Next morning I just had time for a walk out on Chiefs Island. Doing a walk is one of the best ways of seeing life in the bush as you really get to see and appreciate the smaller things that you may miss while in a vehicle. Plus, there is always the chance of encountering some of the bigger animals, which didn’t happen on this occasion.

That afternoon I found myself in the Khwai Community Reserve and I had one of the strangest sightings involving a leopard, a lizard and a tortoise. Whilst I and the other guests on the vehicle were watching a nearby jackal, the attention of Partner, my guide, had been caught by a group of tsessebe. They could almost have been statues as they were absolutely motionless and all staring at the same point. Partner wasted no time and took us right to the spot. This was where we found the unusual trio. The leopard and the big monitor lizard were eyeing each other up warily while the little leopard tortoise seemed completely unaware of any danger despite apparently heading directly towards the leopard. Fantastic to see the so called member of the ‘Big 5’ and respective member of the ‘Small 5’ together in the same spot. What followed was a long stand-off between the young leopard and the lizard. 

Eventually the leopard decided it would move closer to the lizard as he did so he stepped on a branch that gave him a big fright as he leapt into the air and turned tail and made a quick exit. 

The lizard looked extremely proud of itself to have stood ground against its foe and the tortoise was still seemingly unaware of what was going on around it. 

Unfortunately for the leopard its shaming was still not over as it neared a big male impala who with lots of snorting and charging directly towards the leopard managed to chase him off. This was also followed by a group of guinea fowl who also decided to take the chance to humiliate the leopard further. In the end we left the leopard as it took its final step to indignity by starting to eat grass, could this be the new breed of vegetarian leopard?

Days 7 & 8: Little Vumbura & Duma Tau

My next camp, Little Vumbura, is situated on its own island in the delta and so can only be accessed by boat; giving a James Bond style arrival and a feeling of exclusivity. The afternoon’s activity was a motorboat trip down the waterways and into one of the main channels of the delta, the Manuchira. Here, my guide, Jacob, stopped and we had a really informative discussion about how the delta formed, its importance as a unique ecosystem and the factors which shape the delta in the present day. 

On the way back to camp there was a surprise floating sundowner waiting for us. A floating tyre topped with a tin bucket filled with ice, lemons, tonic and of course plenty of gin! All accompanied by a delicious platter of snacks. So absorbed with this floating delight we almost forgot the stunning sunset that we were there to see. Possibly one of the best endings to another fantastic afternoon in the delta.

Another day and another short flight up to the Linyanti marshes to my next camp, Duma Tau. My room here had a fantastic view out across the river. I was informed that unfortunately a young elephant had passed away only a few days ago across the river. Its death was believed to be due to dehydration as its herd had probably travelled a long distance without much water available to them due to the lack of rain so far. As I sat on my deck it was fascinating to watch the comings and goings of various scavengers including vultures, marabou storks, crocodiles and a couple of jackals who were all doing their best to not let the carcass go to waste. Luckily for me the wind was blowing in the opposite direction to my room! 

On that afternoon’s game drive I was lucky enough to have a brief encounter with three wild dogs. However, within five minutes they were off at speed through the mopane woodland which was a little too thick for us to follow them off road. 

Luckily, the next morning after some patience and a bit of luck we found another group of six dogs who were scent marking and happily moved all around the vehicle providing some great photo opportunities.

Days 9 & 10: Kanana & Shinde

Kanana is a camp well known for being able to get to one of the largest heronries in the delta, this is where a lot of water birds such as storks, cranes, pelicans and of course herons come to nest. Unfortunately at the moment the water levels are too low to make a trip there by boat. However this didn’t deter me and my guide and I decided that we would give some of the bigger animals a rest and do some birdwatching at the dwindling waterholes near camp. Now I know this is probably not everyone’s favourite pastime - it certainly wasn’t mine before I started guiding – but I now find it to be quite rewarding as I find it makes you appreciate the sights and sounds of your surroundings more as you try to use everything to identify that LBJ (little brown jobbie) that is flitting all about. On this drive we spotted plenty of water birds from the small three banded plover right up to pelicans. 

The best bird sighting for me was to come the next morning while enjoying another fantastic mokoro ride. Whilst I was busy scanning the reed and papyrus beds for any hiding hippos or even buffalos my poler spotted a Pel’s fishing owl. This is a bird that I have spent lots of time looking for around known nesting sites when on previous visits to the Kruger National Park. Unfortunately due to habitat destruction and slow breeding this species has become endangered. I was over the moon to see not only one but two of these beautiful birds. 

Arriving at Shinde camp and straight away I could see they had at least had some rain in this area as the grass was bright green and lush compared to many of the other areas so far on my journey. 

On arriving in camp I was told they had seen two big male lions pass through the front of camp in the early morning 

We made a plan to go and find the lions before heading out on a fishing trip in the delta. It didn’t take us long to locate the two lions as the temperatures were high and with the landscape being fairly open, limited shade was available for them to be cooling off in. After checking underneath a few of the bigger trees not far from camp we came across the two magnificent males. One was flat out sleeping while the other was more alert and watching what was happening. 

 My guide told me that these two are intruders and are not the dominant males of the area, hence the lookout. Apparently not too long ago they had had a run in with the resident pride males - of which there were four - and one of the two we were viewing had been quite badly injured due to his brother hightailing it out of the area before the fight started.

As the temperatures started to cool off we jumped onto the boat and made our way out into a small lagoon where we were to try our luck with some catch and release fishing. I am not the most patient of people and was imagining sitting there waiting for hours without even a nibble but I was completely wrong and within minutes we were all reeling in an array of fish, with some being bigger than others. 

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