Posted on Monday, 30 September 2013
Spending time in “The Bush” is without doubt one of my favourite things to do. Being out in the wild remote wilderness area, without the cell phone and internet is a rare and welcome feeling, and of course spending time with big and small African wildlife is always amazing. Chris and I recently had an opportunity to spend four days at Chitabe Ladiba Camp near Chiefs Island in The Okavango Delta, Botswana and two nights at Xigera Camp in Moremi, also in The Delta.
Botswana offers a very high end safari experience as bed nights are limited, meaning you will not have more than three other vehicles at any sighting, and it also allows off-roading in most of the areas, meaning you can get very close to the wildlife. The animals here are habituated to vehicles so they are not disturbed by the close presence of the vehicles and the guides are also very aware of not impacting on any predator/prey interactions.
Lions, Lions, Lions!
The Chitabe Concession is located in a very high predator density area and offers some amazing opportunities. We also had a highly entertaining Guide by the name of Duke who was one of the highlights of the trip! On every single game drive that we did here, both morning and afternoon, we encountered lion prides. There are four prides in the area and we saw three of them at close quarters, including the two very large dominant males in the area.
The following encounter is one I would like to share as it was the most memorable sighting for me. One of our fellow German landrover mates spotted a sleeping lioness nest to the Mezi (river). She was sleeping just behind an anthill hidden from the view of any prey that could wander down to drink, none the wiser of the sleeping lioness.
When spending time in the bush, patience and time spent waiting with predators is the best way to see behaviour. We sat with her for a good ninety minutes. As it got cooler and closer to twilight she abruptly woke up and headed deeper into the surrounding bush. As she was on the move we thought there would be a chance for her to hunt and we followed her. Thank goodness for the landrover that could handle the many bushes in our way.
We were taken by complete surprise when out of nowhere three sub adult lioness cubs bolted out of the bush nearly bowling over the adult lioness that we were following. A magical greeting between mum and cubs ensued, with lots of playing and loud lion noises! They were very relaxed with the vehicle so we followed them as they made their way back to the water. We were anticipating them drinking at the river but in true lion fashion they settled down for a good nap before the sun was completely down. Once it was completely dark they prepared for an evening hunt. As they moved off, they chose to traverse the smooth dirt track, definitely the easy path. It was a great experience following them as they slowly wondered down the road. Four beautiful lionesses walking silently in front of us. Eventually they peeled off into the bush and into the night, quickly and easily gone from sight.
An Extremely Beautiful Male Cheetah
On one morning we had a great close sighting of the dominant male cheetah in the concession. He was in the absolute prime of his life and in perfect condition with the most luxuriant coat I have seen on a cheetah, he was without doubt truly magnificent. Our intention in the afternoon was to locate him again and perhaps there would be a chance to see him hunt.
When we left him in the morning he had been lying up sleeping under a shady bush. We approached the area and drove around in circles looking for him. The area was extremely bushy and it was a matter of checking each and every bush, not an easy task!
We were about to give up when Duke just caught the flicker of a tail coming from a dense bush that we had just driven past. The tell tail white tip had just caught Duke’s eye, it was a great spot.
We did not get to see him hunt but he had another glorious look at him.
As we proceeded back to camp we had our first leopard sighting, that of the biggest male leopard I have ever seen. Although it was almost dark we still got a great view of him up in a tree. We would still have another two great leopard sightings to come so this was a very nice warm up.
I do mention this large male leopard as directly after this we came across the two dominant black-manned lions in the area. My goodness were they something to see! Another two beautiful males in their prime, it certainly was a very special day to see all the dominate males from three cat species in the area. What a day…
The following day we spotted another leopard lying under a bush sleeping. We sat with him for a long while until the hot late afternoon turned cooler. He soon began waking up but sadly as he sat up we noticed that he was blind in his left eye and not in very good condition. He was an old leopard probably in the twilight of his life. It was tough to see but we truly appreciated the experience we were about to have.
He slowly made his way across open ground and headed for the tree island that was about 500m in front of us. As he passed a herd of impala saw him. They responded with their snorting distress call which was very impressive with the whole herd going at once. Once they knew they were not being stalked, the whole herd approached for a closer look, snorting the whole time. The sound was incredible. Just then the large troupe of Vervet monkeys spotted him and they began their cacking distress/warning calls. Soon, the whole bush surrounding us was reverberating with sound as the leopard calmly walked towards the monkeys. It was an intense sensory experience as we watched the beautiful red sun setting at the same time.
On the last morning we were not expecting too much, having been so lucky with what we had already seen.
But, early into our drive both Duke and Chris spotted a beautiful female leopard up in a tree just above us. It was still early so there was lovely soft light on her with the green leaves of the tree as a background. She posed beautifully for us and a short while later she had hopped down the tree and was off into the bush.
We were able to follow her and watch as she climbed into a new tree and a new vantage point. She was alert the whole time and took only a few very short “cat naps” during the three hour period that we spent with her. Close by, under a sausage tree, a small herd of impala were grazing. She was aware of them and spent all her time checking out the situation and I guess gauging her chances of success.
Twice more she exited a tree and climbed up another for a closer look. Finally she felt close enough to stay on the ground and stalk them.
She had incredible patience, and was content to be absolutely still as she watched the impala who were now 40 - 50m away. Eventually we saw the tell-tale sign of the beginning of her stalk; the dropped head where her shoulder blades now became her highest point, and she became like a moving carpet as she crept up to them, completely silent.
Even in her silence and crouched pose a single impala became aware of something. I don’t think the impala saw her but was uneasy enough to make the leopard give up the game. Surprisingly to both Chris and I, she did not simply stand up and walk back to the nearest shady tree. She turned around and continued her cat-like moving carpet technique. We assumed that her thought process was not to scare the entire herd and further ruin her chances for a later stalk. It was amazing for us to see that kind of thought process at work, what an amazing encounter!
When in The Delta a real highlight is to spend time at one of the “water camps”. The predator density is not as high but there are still great experiences to be had. Chris and I flew from Chitabe to Xigera in a small Cessna. It was just the two of us and the pilot so the pilot gave us a special treat of flying very low over the flood plains. It was so beautiful taking in the surrounding water, palm tree islands and wildlife from above. One of the highlights of the trip.
The water based camps offer different activities and on the first afternoon we went in a makoro. This is a very basic thin boat originally carved out from a tree and requires a “driver” to use a long pole to push you along. The experience was magical and peaceful and we even spotted a few Angolan frogs!
Game drives are replaced with boat drives and on both of our cruises we had close elephant and crocodile sightings. We also managed to get very close to a group of about twenty hippos which got my adrenalin going just a bit.
Xigera is also home to a very special bird, the Pels Fishing owl. This is a beautiful, giant orange owl that fishes, and it’s rare and difficult to see. I had not seen one before so was really excited before we headed off on a walk to find an adult female and juvenile who are sometimes seen in the area. Our guide had soon spotted the female in a tree some 200m away. As we approached she flew off and we lost her. In trying to locate her again we spent time under a shady tree searching the trees in the distance. A few minutes later the juvenile departed the tree we were under in a great hurry, but not before pooping on me! The smell was something rotten but I think that this is very good luck indeed! A few moments later the female appeared again and we got a great look at both birds.
So, all too soon our week in The Delta had come to an end. I still can’t believe all that we saw and experienced in just seven days and I can’t wait to go back again!
Thank you to the staff at both camps that made our time in the Delta that much more special.