To the Okavango Delta, October 2010

Dumela! I am still in Botswana and have just returned from a week long safari in the Okavango Delta.  This is one of the most unique and pristine areas of wilderness in Africa – a large wetlands area where channels and fingers of water reach far across fertile land to support an abundant array of animals.  I have simply gorged myself on wildlife sightings this week!  I travelled with a luxury mobile camp complete with ensuite “bush bathrooms”, gourmet 3 course dinners with wine, and gin and tonics for every sundown.  The number of animals in the area has been astounding – hundreds of giraffes, often grazing in towers of 10 to 20, herds of elephants 40 to 50 strong with tiny babies trumpeting and flapping their ears, bulls mock charging our safari vehicle and whole families taking a mud bath.  One of our camps was set up beside a hippo pool and we would listen to them grunting and grazing outside our tents at night.  The camp boys were on guard each night as we frequently had hyenas trying to visit the kitchen.   The most exquisite birds in vivid colours seem to be perched in every tree.

Of course the highlight has been the big cat experiences we had – we saw more than a dozen prides of lions, usually slumbering in the shade, sleeping off last night’s activities; we had a close encounter with 2 male cheetahs surveying the grassy plains for possible prey, unperturbed by our presence as we drove within metres.  I had unfortunately missed the elusive leopard until now – but my luck has definitely changed.  On one of our early morning game drives our guide picked up the alarm calls of a herd of impala antelope – we approached and he followed their gaze to spot a leopard perched in coffee-table-book style right in the crook of a large acacia tree.  We bush-bashed the safari truck to pull up directly under the tree and the leopard blinked lazily at us for a few moments.  She then stretched and let out 2 short roars and climbed down from the tree.  We followed along behind as she walked along a river bank – her magnificent yellow pelt covered in inky fingerprints and white tipped tail flicking about.  She paused to half-heartedly stalk some birds but then dropped down not 3 metres from our vehicle to roll around in the grass in the early morning sunshine!

The following day our luck still held and on the dawn game drive we came upon some vultures circling. Mayhem broke out and we could hear jackals howling and 2 hyena fled the scene their snouts and faces painted with fresh blood.  We crashed the safari truck through thick scrub to emerge in front of a leopard crouching down over a freshly killed impala.  She eyed us and the surrounds cautiously as she dragged it to the nearest tree and hauled the carcass up into the branches.  As she lay panting we noticed a large gash in her leg from her tangle with the hyenas.  But the story doesn’t end there as we returned later on in the afternoon to check on her. She arose from the half eaten carcass and let out a low roar.  Suddenly from the long grass ahead of us a 2 month old cub appeared and scampered to the base of the tree, scrambling awkwardly up into the branches to settle and start gnawing at the antelope. What an incredible and unforgettable experience!

But the safari isn’t over until the lion roars – this was never truer than this time as when my guide dropped me at the airfield to catch my charter flight back to town there was a large pride of 9 lions sunbaking on the airstrip! Tomorrow I will be travelling to Zambia and then Zimbabwe for my final week of travels with the magnificent Victoria Falls in my sights.  I will write to finish the southern African tales before long.

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