Experiencing the Wonders of Zimbabwe and Botswana

Judith Towell

05 Jun 2017

Elephant Camp

After an overnight flight from Heathrow via Johannesburg, I arrived at Elephant Camp mid-afternoon and was shown to my beautiful tent with a private plunge pool (very cold!) and a distant view of the spray from the ‘Smoke that Thunders’.

On walking back to the reception/dining area I was surprised to meet a fully grown cheetah, apparently quite at ease with some of my fellow guests. 

It turned out that he had been discovered when only a few days old with the bodies of his siblings who had presumably been killed by lions. His mother was nowhere to be seen and so he was rescued and raised with a domestic cat until he became an ambassador for Wild Horizons. Sylvester, as he is now called, walks in the bush with guests from Elephant Camp and although he does know how to bring down prey, he has no idea how to kill. Very strange to be at such close quarters with a fully grown cheetah and not at all what I was expecting!

Somalisa Camp

After two nights I left Elephant Camp for a 45 minute light plane journey to Hwange, to be met by my guide Peter for another 45 minute safari truck journey to Somalisa Camp where we saw elephant, giraffe, zebra and various birds on the way. After settling in at Somalisa, where my magnificent tent came complete with wood burning stove, enormous roll top bath, indoor and outdoor showers and veranda complete with hammock, I was off on a game drive with Peter, an incredibly knowledgeable guide and so enthusiastic.

The highlight of the drive was finding a group of four lions, two male and two female, who are the last litter of cubs sired by Cecil (Cecil was the male lion shot by US dentist Walter Palmer in July 2015). 

The cubs are now about 30 months old and it’s sad to say that they were looking very thin. It could be that their mother and the rest of the pride had forced them out of the pride to hunt on their own, but it didn’t look like they were being very successful. Peter seemed to think they were being harassed by three older males, but he suspected that their mother would periodically check up on them. I hope that is true and that they do make it.

The next day’s game drives brought the four lions again and it was obvious they still hadn’t eaten. We saw them in the morning and again in the afternoon, still sleeping in the same place we’d left them that morning. But on the game drives we did see ostrich, elephant, giraffe, zebra, impala, kudu, sable, secretary birds, leopard tortoise and the ever-present lilac breasted roller. The next day brought news that a large male lion had been sighted in the area, which presumably had scared off the four siblings as they were nowhere to be found.


Camp was visited by about six elephants in the middle of the day to gorge on the acacia pods, one of their favourite foods. 

My tent was directly beneath a large acacia tree and, after giving the tree a good shake, the elephants swept the roof of the tent with their trunks to retrieve the pods. Just magical!

Getting ready to set off on the late afternoon game drive, we were treated to a procession of animals to the waterhole in front of the camp. Starting with elephant, the next 30 minutes saw groups of giraffe, zebra, bushbuck, baboon and impala arrive at the waterhole. Such a treat. The game drive ended at the camp’s viewing platform for champagne and nibbles, watching the sun go down over a group of elephants at the waterhole below. 

Somalisa Camp is a truly magical place, made even more special by the wonderful staff and fantastic meals.

Chobe Game Lodge

After three magical nights, I left Somalisa Camp to travel to Botswana and Chobe Game Lodge. I arrived too late for my intended sundowner cruise, so I spent time looking around the Lodge. Although the Lodge has a stunning location overlooking the Chobe River with Namibia on the other side, it was too big for my taste.

My first (and only) full day at Chobe comprised two game drives and a Chobe River cruise with guide Thuso, one of the all-female guides at Chobe. We knew there had been a kill as there were about 50 vultures and maribou storks sitting in a couple of dead trees, but because off-road driving is not allowed at Chobe, we couldn’t track down the kill. Although, the next morning we managed to see a large male lion with his kill, probably a buffalo, under a tree. The vultures were determined to get in on the act, but the lion was doing a fantastic job of protecting his meal.

Selinda Camp

Two nights later and another flight, this time to Selinda Camp on the Selinda Spillway. Met by guide James (aka 007) and taken by game truck and speed boat to the camp - and what a magnificent camp it is! After settling in with elephants immediately outside my tent, we went off on an afternoon/early evening game drive to find two male lions relaxing in the sun, then a leopard just as it was getting dark. Then it was back to camp for a beautiful dinner around the camp fire.

The next day was very special. After setting off with a bush breakfast to eat mid drive, we came upon an elephant carcass which was about a month old and obviously still very appealing to a pack of hyena, despite the smell! We watched for some time as they used their terrifically powerful jaws to rip into what was left of the carcass, before moving on and sighting a few Roan antelope and giraffe. We then saw a very special sighting of a pride of female lions on the march with their four very young cubs. We followed and after a time it became obvious the cubs were getting tired, so the pride flopped down in the shade and the cubs began to feed. It was obvious the adults wanted to rest, but the cubs, now fully refreshed, had other ideas and pestered their increasingly exasperated mothers.

We left them to their rest and soon spotted a few vultures sitting in a tree. We went to investigate and found a leopard sitting at the foot of the tree - very exciting.


A sundowner cruise found surprisingly little bird life, apart from pied kingfishers and a couple of African jacana, but we were then treated to a magical experience as a whole herd of elephant came down to the water to drink and so we sat in silence for some time whilst watching them.

The next day’s game drives brought Kori bustard, ground hornbills and young bateleur eagles, plus a very impressive male kudu with magnificent antlers, a small herd of elephants, zebra, giraffe and ostrich. Then a call to say a pack of African wild dogs had been sighted so we set off at breakneck speed through the bush for about an hour to see them, but sadly missed them. On the way, we spotted wildebeest, impala, warthog elephants and secretary birds, before finally stopping for sundowners while watching hippos wallowing as the sun set. Beautiful!

I’ll be sorry to leave Selinda – a truly magical place where the staff make you feel so welcome. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to return.

Shinde Camp

After three nights at Selinda, it was another short flight to Shinde. When I arrived, I had a short game drive of all of five minutes with my guide, NT, to Shinde Camp, set on a small island in the Okavango Delta. Lechwe and tsessebe seem to be quite common here, coming right up to the tents at times.

On my first game drive at Shinde, we hadn’t travelled more than 100 yards when some impala started giving alarm calls. On investigation we found a female leopard under a bush with its impala kill. We watched for some time before driving off and seeing a small crocodile and a herd of red lechwe, before spotting the leopard again having a drink from the lagoon. We then saw a very distant sighting of a wild dog.

Day two brought the surprise of a second leopard at the impala kill. A very handsome male who was apparently the father of the female we’d seen the previous evening. We then spotted the female lying in a tree not far away from the kill, obviously hoping to get back to her prize. 

The rest of the drive produced red lechwe, tsessebe, zebras and a single female wildebeest nursing terrible wounds that she apparently sustained trying to unsuccessfully save her calf from lions.

An afternoon boat cruise on the delta, again producing very little bird life apart from pied kingfishers and an African fish eagle, but a night drive did result in the sighting of a civet searching for prey.

The next day we checked the spot where the leopards had been with the kill to find leopards and kill gone, but, just as we were about to drive on, two young male lions walked past having probably finished off the kill. The plan had been to do a game walk, but that was put on hold with the presence of the lions. However, when we were far enough away, we did manage to do a walk and learnt such a lot from NT about bush craft. We then were treated to a surprise outdoor lunch after meeting up with other guests, before heading back to camp to look forward to a mokoro trip later in the afternoon.

It was just me and my guide/poler Sebina on the mokoro for a couple of hours on the waterways surrounding camp, stopping for sundowners and listening to the painted reed frogs calling. So peaceful.

The last game drive of my holiday came en route to the airstrip and brought a female leopard hunting, but all too soon I had to start the long journey home via Maun and Johannesburg.

A truly magical holiday and one hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to repeat again some time.

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