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Botswana Safari, Okavango Delta Posts

Tau Pan August 2013

 

The coalition of two cheetah was found to the west of Letiahau on the 12th of this month, resting under the umbrella thorn acacia. They looked as though the dry times were suiting them, and were healthy. A few days later, at Leopard pan, four tiny cheetah cubs were found with their mother feeding on a springbok at Leopard Pan. Four cubs is a lot for a mother to raise, and unfortunately, cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate, so let’s hope that she has some good luck on her side. Young cheetah cubs have markings that resemble the white back stripe of a honey badger – possibly a deterrent to any predator that isn’t paying close attention…

Big herds of around 200 springbok were seen along West road.

Four honey badgers were seen foraging in the Tau Pan area one morning, digging for rodents or scorpions. The pale chanting goshawks were also in attendance – these birds are known for following honey badgers, in the hope that they disturb something that the goshawk can grab for itself.

Lions were seen most days from the middle of the month, often at the waterhole. The Tau Pan Pride with the two adult lionesses were seen mating with the males that now dominate the area. The sub adults (eight) are still with the females, and the young males have yet to break away.

And yes, apparently a brown hyena den has been discovered along West Road Three hyena cubs were seen playing outside the den with some sticks. This is a first for the area, and I wouldn’t actually believe it was there not photographic proof to go with it…

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Nxai Pan August 2013

 

Waking up the morning of the 3rd of August, the ground was covered with some very strange speckles on the ground, as though millions of tiny antlions had suddenly dug in. A closer inspection revealed something even more surprising: during the night, it had rained! This may be pretty normal in most parts of the world, but in northern Botswana in August, it happens as frequently as a total solar eclipse. The skies are normally perfectly empty of clouds for roughly six months, but the previous day had light grey clouds almost totally covering the sky. The drops were too well spread out to do more than evaporate on impact, so its still a long few months till the rains are expected again. They mysterious clouds disappeared that afternoon, replaced by the normal blue sky.

On the 5th of August, a leopard was spotted running from east to west along the West Road – very shy and skittish. We soon also came upon two lions at the main waterhole, who we thought would be disadvantaged by the lack of cover at the waterhole, and were unable to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. For some strange reason, the many springbok, impala, and wildebeest that were also there did not seem to notice the stalking lions, and it was only when an alert kudu made an alarm call, that everyone noticed the approaching lions.

Looking for the lions the next day, we were barely out of camp when four of them found us. The large male lion, in his prime, was trying to drive the sub adult male lion away from the female, and they ran off in the direction of the camp, but disappeared into the bush north east of the camp. Just after watching them, we came across fresh tracks of a leopard, and as the tracker and guide were examining the track, an eagle-eyed guest saw the leopard a little further along the road.

The very next day, the action was all at the camp waterhole, with early morning breakfast disrupted by the lions… the female was drinking at the waterhole, but the older male and the sub-adult were fighting in clouds of dust, as the older male tried again to deter the young male from the females presence. A spectacular sighting!

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Lagoon August 2013

 

A secret convention of leopards seems to have occurred at some time in the last few months in the Lagoon area. Possibly sponsored by the Botswana Department of Tourism, with the main topic of discussion obviously being ‘changing our spots: how we can contribute to the growth of the country’. This is the only explanation we can think of for the rapid increase in sightings of leopards in the area. We always knew they were there, as the tracks were seen often, but what has changed significantly is the number of relaxed individuals that are being seen, rather than fleeting glances of shy animals. Whether we have just been inordinately lucky, or it’s a seasonal thing, the guests have been reaping the benefits, with leopards being seen almost every day – and often two in one day.  Certainly, short and dry grass helps for visibility, but looking back in the previous years records at the same time of year, sightings are definitely occurring more regularly

Perhaps we have the dogs to thank for that? This is the first time in ten years that the wild dogs have not denned by August, and are still moving throughout the area. Perhaps this means that we are spending more time traversing different routes tracking the dogs and other animals, rather than simply going to the den and watching the dogs for an hour or so? It’s a distinct possibility, and although it is lovely to see puppies at a den, nature is certainly showing us some exceptional sightings at the moment.

And exceptional they have been: one group of guests only spent one night in Lagoon, as their agent had said even if they don’t have much time to spare, it’s worth the experience. Heading out on game drive that afternoon, they soon came across a relaxed female leopard, who they spent some time watching – another vehicle spent two hours with the same leopard – before heading on to see what else they could find. A little while later, they came across not one, but four leopards: a mother with two sub-adult cubs, and a male that was probably interested in the female leopard! This is definitely a record for the area: five leopards in one game drive!

Predators were continually making guest appearances at other predator sightings: two young cheetahs were found feeding on a baby kudu they had just killed. Whilst the guide and guests were enjoying this sighting, a leopard was seen less than 50m away, it had also seen the cheetah, and approached. Two light-weight cheetahs against one female leopard is a fight that is hard to pick the winner out of, and the animals themselves seemed to know this. In scenes reminiscent of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the leopard chased one of the cheetahs, whilst the second cheetah chased the leopard! After some to-ing and fro-ing, with neither team wanting to be ‘tagged’, the cheetahs gave up their kill to the leopard. Another day, the pack of wild dogs happened upon a male lion whilst hunting, but the male was more interested in finding his mate than a dog chase. And a hyena came across a leopardess that had got a little greedy: she had killed an impala and hoisted it in a tree, then managed to kill a second impala which she left on the ground. The hyena took the opportunity and grabbed the second impala, whilst the leopard retreated to the tree.

Although the three cheetah brothers spent a week in Lagoon last month, this month they only turned up on the last day of the month. But two sub-adult males are making up for it with good sightings, including the one just mentioned.

The bigger cats – lions – have also been frequently seen – even from camp during early morning coffee as three of them strolled past the camp. A honeymoon couple spent a few days in the area, whilst the pride of six waited nearby for the female to rejoin the group. For some reason, these lions are particular interested in the tyres on the vehicles. No one can figure out why, but the young males are often trying to get close to the tyres to sniff them. Sometimes, they just stare intently up at the spare tyre on the back of the vehicle. This is, needless to say, quite off-putting for any guests sitting the back row at the time…

The dogs have been covering huge distances this month, roaming the concession and sniffing out their territories. One day they will be running through the camp, and the next they will be hanging out close to Lebala camp. This is keeping everyone on their toes, and the trackers have their work cut out for them. Even so, the dogs are still being seen often, as testified to by the comment made in our visitors book: “14th annual wild dog safari successful!” By the end of August, the Alpha female looks pregnant, but sadly, she does not look in very good condition. Even if she dens next month, she may not be strong enough to raise a litter of pups this year. This would be her ninth or tenth litter, which is quite remarkable for a wild dog.

The temperatures in August suddenly took a leap from one week to the next, and the warm days encouraged the elephants to drink at the lagoon in front of camp, and swim across to the far bank. Large buffalo herds were seen often near the edge of the watering holes, kicking up dust as they moved in, and adding to the haze in the sky – the cool blue skies of winter giving over to the dusty white before the rains arrive.

Unusual sightings this month (leopards aside) include several sightings of civet, roan, eland, bat eared fox and honey badger – in fact, four honey badgers were seen on one evening drive, and then two more the next morning. A very rare number!

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Kwara August 2013

JTVink_mammals_wilddogwithpups  KWARA

Morning drives were reaching ridiculous proportions this month, with some guest’s ticking off hyena, lion, wild dog packs x 2, wild dog puppies and all the general game before a good brunch at 11am. Add a sprinkling of cheetahs and the odd leopard, and people were starting to wonder if they hadn’t just arrived at some kind of zoo.

It was all 100% natural though, and was the result of hard work paying off from the trackers and guides, who spent the time following the animals’ footprints and finding even the most elusive of animals.

There were a few surprises thrown in this month – the resident pack of dogs is still going strong with all 10 puppies alive and well, but on the 8th of August, another group of dogs was spotted. The pack size was a total of 7 adults, and we could not recognize the pack members as any we had seen before, so where they had come from no one knows. Around the middle of the month, the puppies were big enough to leave the den, and follow the adults, but sightings have still been good with them being seen fairly regularly.

Lions were seen almost every day, mostly doing what lions do best – resting – but we were also lucky enough to see the four intruding males take on two resident males, in a tussle over territory.

A sudden change in the temperature to a high of 32 degrees C – early in the season – brought with it an early fire to the east of Kwara. Because of the little rain that occurred in the previous rainy season, most grass is very dry already, but it is also quite short, making it a little easier to fight the fires. Still, it is early for bushfires, and rumours abound that the rainy season will make its entrance a little earlier this year, perhaps to make up for the dry times last season.

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Lebala August 2013

 

Whatever happened to the leopards in Lagoon, it appears the ones in Lebala also attended the same conference. Leopard sightings proved excellent this month, with all of the sightings being relaxed, and some very unusual sightings also occurred.

One female that was seen several times with her cub, was also seen with her older cub – now approximately 18 months old. The mother had killed an impala, and hung that in a tree and the older cub was also seen in attendance. Sadly, a day or two later, returning to the same area, the mother and young cub had relocated, but surprisingly, the older cub was found dead on the ground, being covered by a hyena. No one is sure how the leopard died – perhaps baboons killed it, or even another male leopard that also passed through the area. However, the strangest thing was to see the hyena lying on the leopard, as if cuddling it. A dead impala was nearby at the base of a tree, but the hyena paid no attention to it.

Earlier in the month, guests also witnessed an unusual event whereby a leopard had the tables turned on it by a troop of baboons. When the baboons saw the leopard, they went into attack mode, and scuttled along the ground chasing the leopard. Since a baboon’s canines are similar in length to that of a lion, it was not a tough decision for the leopard to turn tail and run when severely out-numbered.

The northern pack of wild dogs have been seen several times in the area – sometimes in front of the camp hunting, and also making successful kills. With the dogs not having denned so far this year, they are covering huge territories, and moving between the two key game drive areas of the Kwando concession every few days.

At one point, towards the end of the month, five dogs split off from the Lagoon pack, for a few days. They were seen resting after having killed an impala, with a hyena, jackal, and two eagles all waiting at a slight distance to see if they could scavenge any remains.

Needless to say, with the slightly warmer weather, the elephants are out in full force, tramping through the camp every day, and moving in and out of the marshy area in front of the camp. There are lots of breeding herds, always watchful of who is around, and never stopping in one place for too long. Then there is the case of the elephant that is afraid of water. This is a tricky situation to be in if you are an elephant growing up in the northern part of Botswana, which has much of the land given over to marsh, floodplains and river channels. Every afternoon for several days running, the little elephant’s mother came down to the edge of the camp, and crossed the narrow channel that runs in front of the rooms, to graze on the other side. Each time, her baby stopped at the edge, and no amount of coaxing would get him to cross. Eventually, she moved across by herself 100m or so away from him. Torn between losing sight of mum, and the strange wet stuff he was being asked to wade through, he teetered too and fro on the edge, waiting for her to come back. A couple of times he plunged in, only to hotfoot it back to the bank, trunk and ears waving in contempt. One afternoon, his mother wandered out of sight on the other bank, and he let out a distress call. Within seconds, aunts, cousins and grandma were running across the floodplain, surrounding the little one with deep reassuring rumbles, concerned for his safety. His mother, remained unmoved, and continued grazing. It seems the grandmother had a few things to say about the parenting skills of the mother. One hopes that the warmer the weather gets, the more inviting the water will seem, and then hopefully the little elephant will be able to follow mum wherever she wanders.

The young male cheetahs have also been providing the camp with some good sightings, and two shy male lions have been seen several times. The fact that they are shy, indicates that they have come from deep in the wilderness, where it is not common to see cars. Hopefully, over time, they will get used to the cars, and relax when they are spotted on drive.

There was a lovely sighting one early evening of a honey badger digging for mice, with a baby honey badger keeping watch along side, and an even rarer sighting of an aardvark!

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Nxai Pan July 2013

 

It was a quieter month for guests at Nxai Pan, so we did not do as many drives as other months. However, when we did have guests, we were able to show them great sightings of general game, and lions were also seen on most day drives.

The beginning of the month was off to a good start, with a cheetah being seen close to the Hatab 2 site. Whilst we were watching it, the cheetah began to chase a steenbok, and managed to catch it very close to the car! A few days later, possibly the same cheetah chased a second steenbok right in front of camp, but this hunt was unsuccessful.

The waterhole is surrounded by game all day with spring bok and impalas moving in and out to drink, with the zebras also in attendance. Three lionesses spent time waiting near the waterhole, to see if they could catch any other animal unawares as it came down to drink. The zebras moved nervously to and from the waterhole, sensing that the lions were there. Perhaps later in the evening, the lions got lucky.

On another day, a male and female lion were mating close to the main waterhole. Lions are rarely interested in chasing prey when they are in the romantic mood, but it is not very reassuring if you are prey animal to have two lions in such close proximity to your only source of water! 

A very productive cultural walk was conducted close to the camp one morning, with springbok, impala, jackal and steenbok being sighted. We also watched as an oryx dug the ground for succulent roots and tubers to vary their diet in this dry time. A buffalo thorn tree provided a quiet resting places for two types of owls that are not often seen: the one tree held two white-faced owls, and a wood owl!

 

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Lagoon July 2013

The Lagoon bar is a popular spot for everyone to gather, and enjoy a drink or two before dinner. When the temperature drops, as it does in July, everyone normally grabs a drink and heads straight for the fireplace. One evening, guests and their guide were sitting around the fire waiting for the remaining guests to come from their rooms, so the bar was a little quieter than normal. Quiet enough, that a leopard decided to come into the lounge, saunter along the floor of the bar, and then head off towards room 1!

The next day, an eagle-eyed guide spotted a jackal 8 meters up in a tree next to the managers house, not far off the main pathway to the guest rooms. Jackals are not known for their tree climbing skills, so it had obviously required some assistance at getting up there, courtesy of the bar-visiting leopard. The evening game drive finished with a walk back to the guest rooms before dinner, and a rare on-foot viewing of the leopard high up in the tree near its kill. It is not unusual for leopards to kill other predators that they see as competition, but it is rare for them to eat them. This leopard seemed not too bothered about the rule book, and dined on jackal.

The good news is that the cheetah coalition of three males, which has been missing from the concession for many months, made a return in July, and was seen every day for over a week in the middle of the month. Where they have been all this time, and why they have come back, remains a mystery, but we are glad to have them return.

The Lagoon wild dog pack has provided excellent sightings of action hunts, in spite of not having denned in the traditional time. There is the possibility that she will den later in the year, or, if she is finally beyond her breeding years – and she has had litters for more years than the majority of Alphas – that one of the younger females in the pack will take on the role of Alpha female. The dogs were sighted nearly every day, often leading us in a grand adventure as they hunted, missed, and hunted again, whilst trying to avoid other predators. One morning they left from their overnight rest stop near the camp, and headed out towards one of the islands, only to quickly back track as they found six lions already on the island. Having had a narrow escape with the lions the tables were turned as the 14 dogs then ran through another wooded area, and flushed a leopard up a tree!

Predator sightings were excellent this month, as apart from the dogs, we had regular sightings of the pride of six lions, and the coalition of three male cheetahs spent a whole week with us. One day the three cheetahs killed two baby eland, a very successful mornings hunting. The lions provided some good action sightings, as one morning they killed a warthog, and then had a tug of war, with the female that made the actual kill dragging the warthog and three attached lions several meters in a bid to gain a bit of the meat. Leopards were also prevalent, with some individuals being so relaxed that they allowed the vehicle to follow them for several hours – wandering along the road, resting for a while on top of termite mounds, before finally climbing a tree and lying on a branch to catch the afternoon sun. One hungry leopardess spent a very determined morning… the game drive vehicles watched her slowly stalking a herd of impala, with great concentration. Waiting patiently, she finally judged the moment was right, and focused on one individual impala in the herd. Unfortunately for her, the impala had exceptionally quick reflexes, and dived out of the way. In the confusion, an adult kudu that was mingling with the impalas suddenly found itself with an equally surprised leopard attached to its ‘undercarriage’. Far too big a prey for a small female leopard, the leopard quickly dropped off and scuttled out of the way before the kudu could do some serious damage to her. She was still as determined as ever, and spent another hour carefully stalking another group of impala, before the guests had to leave to catch a plane!

The hyena den is as productive as ever, and there is one very young cub, still all brown and looking more like a bear than a hyena. The cub remains at the den, whilst the rest of the hyenas come and go.

A couple of unusual spots whilst on the boat cruise – a leopard was seen at bee-eater island, and a sitatunga with calf was seen on the 18th July – the first of the year.

Other general game sightings included herds of sable – around 50 individuals, herds of roan, eland, large herds of buffalo (around 500 strong) and of course the elephants in their breeding herds, seen out and about on drive, and also drinking in front of the camp.

 

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Tau Pan July 2013

 

Starting one morning drive to Passage water hole, we heard the jackals alarm calling, it sounded a little far away. We looked around for them, and tried to see what they were alarming at, but did not manage to locate them. Later in the afternoon we headed out on drive again and found the lion at the waterhole by the camp. Whilst watching him, we heard the jackals calling from the same area again, and this time managed to locate them, and find also a female leopard with a kill. She had taken down a springbok, and had fed a little on it. After watching her for a while, we continued on with our drive, only to stop 100m away when we found her cub watching us! Both animals were very relaxed, so it was a lovely sighting.

The two male lions are spending long periods at the camp waterhole, and rarely seem interested in any of the prey that moves down to drink. They are looking fat and full bellied, and are obviously catching feeding away from the waterhole, and hunting at night. They were joined from time to time by a female.

A few sightings of the brown hyena this month, but as one guide mentioned: the brown hyenas never stop, they see you, they run away.

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Kwara July 2013

 

Wonderful game this month, with great predator sightings of lions, cheetahs, leopards, and the dogs.

The three adult cheetahs are generally found every two days. The guiding team is now familiar with their pattern of movement, so we have had good success in tracking them down. At one point, one of the cheetahs has an injured leg and was limping badly.

The leopard commonly known as Ramasedi was watched for over an hour one day as he carefully stalked some greater kudu. The wind direction was to his advantage, but the prey species adrenalin was high at all times, as they seemed to sense something was near. They continued to move every time the leopard got a little closer. Eventually, Ramasedi moved off, in search of less alert prey.

A mating pair of lions was located for a few days close to the western side of the concession. Another male was located to the east of the Splash area. Lions walked through the camps on several occasions, producing loud roars in the middle of the night, that resonate through the canvas walls!

The last day of June produced a litter of puppies at the wild dog den. Although 11 were initially counted, only 10 can now be seen, with the 12 adult dogs. The puppies are growing fast, and each day, they get more and more curious about their habitat. The adult dogs do hunting forays, and return to the den to provide food for the alpha female that stays with the pups, and snips of food for the puppies as well, as they learn to eat meat, and not just suckle. This has provided some wonderful sights, and the dogs have also been busy defending their dens site from wandering hyenas, who given a chance, would kill the puppies. Twice we have seen dogs attacking hyenas in the area, and there was even a fight between the dogs and one of the three cheetah brothers.

This year seems to be a good year for elephants, with a lot more of them appearing in the area than previous years. This may be due to the flood waters not being as high in the three prior years, so they are making use of the wooded areas and the permanent water in Kwara. Breeding herds are normally shy of game drive vehicles in the area, but several relaxed herds have been seen this month.

Elephants, as you may be aware, are rather large creatures. However, they appear to have some connection to an alternate universe, as their bodies can apparently go through spaces that are far too small. Coming to dinner one night, a big bull elephant was wedged between the curio shop and the main stair case railing, hoovering up some jackalberries with his trunk. Measuring the distance the next morning, we discovered it is less than 50cm, so how something that is several meters in width can squeeze himself in, remains to be one of life’s little mysteries. Just like why you never see a baby baobab tree, and why a leopard can seem to materialize only when it wishes to be seen, even if every one has been looking in exactly the same spot for 10 minutes.

Flood waters are continuing to drop throughout the Delta, as if three years of large floods has made everyone complacent. We are returning to the more normal situation of watching the water ebb, as the winter progresses. However, late in July, the Kwara area received a second ‘push’ of water, as the ever unpredictable waters cut through new channels as it recedes in other areas.

 

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Tau Pan June 2013

 

The 1st of June, and romance is in the air: two steenboks, on the northern side of the camp, spent the day courting. The male was using his front leg to delicately tap the hindquarters of the female. She seemed a little unimpressed however, so he obviously has to work on his charm a little more.

The two male lions were seen fat and fit, resting at the camp waterhole for several days in June. If they wish to maintain their territory – and the only permanent sources of water in an area tens of square kilometres, then they will need to be careful they do not leave it undefended for too long. Many nights they were heard roaring and calling – with females responding in the distance. Later on in the month they were seen with a female companion – not one of the two adult females from the original Tau Pan pride of eight. Perhaps this female will stay with the male lions, and use their strength for protection of herself, and the valuable resource of the waterhole.

Lovely herds of kudu (34 in total) and a journey of 15 giraffe parade each day around the Tau Pan area, coming down to drink at the water hole very carefully, with a keen eye out for the two lions they know frequent the area.

Naturally, now that everything is so dry, there’s a better chance of seeing one of those mythical creatures – brown hyena. Slim, but still a chance. One was seen moving along the fire break not far from camp.

Deception Valley is now a harsh environment compared to the beautiful green plain with plenty of food for the herbivores that it becomes in the rainy season. But life goes on in this environment for many animals, and we were lucky enough to have a great viewing of a leopard attempting to hunt on one of our day drives to this area.

 

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