WARNING: Contains images of animals which may upset those with a sensitive disposition!
Travel: Bus & Boat
Accommodation: Chobe Bush Lodge
In last week’s episode, we left Zambia for the next leg of the trip! Botswana was arguably the country I was most excited to visit on this trip because it meant one MASSIVE thing; SAFARI! Our accommodation was in Chobe Bush Lodge, a rustic structure with rooms that looked like Tarzan and Jane’s fantasy honeymoon suite.
THINGS TO PACK FOR SAFARI:
- Light coloured clothing, preferably khaki or beige
- Layers for the early morning game drives, as it can be chilly!
- Camera with good zoom (60x for the best photos)
- Mosquito repellent
- Malaria tablets
Safari Day One
I was up at 5am for the early morning game drive, lasting for three hours between 6am and 9am. The truck we were travelling in was open from the sides and despite this being Africa, it was very cold! However, the trucks came with blankets under the seats which came in very handy.
Our guide and driver (Wembe) told us that the foundation of Chobe National Park was Kalahari sand, which measured between 250-500m in depth. We saw a multitude of different animals, including antelope, kudu, impala, buffalo, hippos and baboons but I will summarise the most interesting ones below.
The first animals we came across were the majestic giraffes. Wembe told us that as giraffes grow their skin gets darker, so you are able to distinguish an older giraffe from a younger one based on which one has darker skin. He also described their ambling walk, completely different from that of other animals, developed to balance their incredibly long necks.
We were lucky enough to see two young male lions, having a drink at the watering hole and taking a nap. I wondered how we were able to get so close to the lions without being mauled to death but Wembe said that as long as we stayed fairly still and within the confines of the truck, they saw us as a unit not a collection of people. If we had been silly enough to leave the truck they would have probably attacked us!
I’m not much of a twitcher, but the birds I saw in Botswana were the most beautiful I have ever seen. Most notably there was the carmine bee-eater, the king fisher, the African starling, the red billed hornbill and the lilac breasted roller.
- African wild dogs
The most exciting thing that happened on safari however, was the attack of the wild dogs. It is unusual to see wild dogs in general, so we were very lucky to witness them in such brutal spirits. These dogs are one of the top five predators, hunting in packs and feeding on their prey after chasing them to exhaustion.
Wembe noticed a kerfuffle among the impala and alerted us to the fact that an attack was about to take place. A pack of 3 wild dogs caught an impala and tore it to shreds before our very eyes. Once the wild dogs were finished eating the impala (and its unborn baby), they left to drink at the nearby watering hole.
Wembe was right to stick around for a while long because it was at this stage that flocks of vultures and marabou storks descended upon the carcass to begin their scavenging. Suddenly, the wild dogs were back to defend their carcass and shooed all of the birds away by biting at them. They continued to eat their leftovers, their patchy coats totally stained with blood.
I wondered why they would eat all of the impala themselves, when Wembe had told us that they had puppies waiting at home with the rest of their pack. Apparently, wild dogs have the ability to eat large quantities and then regurgitate their food for the rest of the pack when they return to them.
Soon enough the wild dogs were finished with their meal, which meant that the vultures and marabou storks were able to start theirs. This didn’t last for very long however as a small jackal appeared and took his share of the kill! It was incredible to see the speed with which these animals turned the impala into a heap of bones, and while totally gory and probably quite upsetting to a lot of people, I found it really exciting to see the food chain develop in front of me.
Later that day after lunch, we made our way to a boat and met our guide for the river safari, Isaac. This was another 3 hour safari, lasting between 3-6pm. This safari gave us the chance to get a bit more up close and personal with the animals that prefer water to land.
Hippos generally like to keep to themselves and so you’re more likely to see them occasionally poking their heads out of the water. Isaac told us that the adorable yawning we thought we were seeing was actually a threat to our safety, because they didn’t like how close our boat was getting to their pod. They can last for 6 minutes submerged underwater before they have to resurface for air.
We did see some hippos out of the water, and through my binoculars I noticed that they had a few little birds perched on their backs. Isaac told us that when the hippos fight they get wounds on their skin, and so when they go into the water, leeches attach to these wounds and suck the blood out. When they come back out of the water, birds pick off the attached leeches in a process known as symbiosis.
The elephants were the highlight of this safari trip for me. Huge herds of them had gathered on the sandy banks of the Zambezi River to drink and cool off in the water. Baby elephants who had not gained control of their trunks yet, dunked their entire heads into the water to drink. Families came together and greeted one another, moving off in their separate herds when they were finished.
There was an island in the middle of the Zambezi River which the elephants had reached by swimming. Their dark skin was grey from the mud they had coated themselves in to cool off. They were led by a matriarch, who dictated when they came and when they left the island. Between the ages of 12 and 18, male elephants hit puberty and start becoming attracted to females. At this stage they are ousted from the group in order to prevent inbreeding.
With another display of the perfect timing we had been benefitting from all day, we caught the herd of 12 elephants being led by their matriarch from the island, across the channel to the mainland. Trunks sticking out of the water like snorkels and all in the row, I had to keep reminding myself that what I was seeing was happening right in front of me. It still feels surreal when I think back to it.
We saw more magnificent birds such as kingfishers (who slap their prey to tenderise it before they eat it), herons, storks and eagles. An interesting fact about the marabou stork is that they like to urinate and defecate on their own legs in order to keep cool during hot weather.
Although I’m not sure that ‘deer’ is the right term for these animals, we saw a great deal of water buck, antelopes, kudu and impalas on the banks of the Zambezi River. We saw the impala licking the ground and Isaac told us that this was done to rebalance their salt levels. They generally eat from Acacia trees but when these become overgrazed, the plant releases acids as a defence mechanism and this can affect the health of the impala. Licking the salt redresses this issue by balancing the minerals in their systems.
Safari Day Two
During the morning of day two, I visited Namibia for a walking tour of a local village. Because this was such an informative trip and involved going to another country, I have decided to blog about this in a separate post which will be coming very soon!
Upon returning from Namibia, we prepared ourselves for our second game drive. Today we were being led by Innocent, a new ranger. Innocent told us that the afternoon would be an even better time to see the animals, because the heat of the afternoon sun would draw the animals out to the water to drink.
On this trip we saw many of the same animals that we had seen the day before, but no two days are the same on safari. Innocent was a bit more brazen in how close he got us to the animals. At this point in the afternoon the heat struggle was REAL, which is something to bear in mind if you’re deciding between a morning or afternoon game drive.
Not long into our game drive, we came across the Kori Bustard. This is Botswana’s national bird and it is the largest in flight bird in the world, weighing in at 19kg approximately.
Innocent told us that Chobe National Park is home to up to 150,000 elephants. Unlike places such as Kruger National Park in South Africa, Chobe does not cull its elephant population. The saying “an elephant never forgets” is nothing but truth. Innocent said that in places where culling is common, they have to make sure that they kill any elephant who may have witnessed another elephant being killed by a human. They cannot even show sympathy to babies, as there have been cases where these baby elephants have grown up to exact revenge on humans for the deaths they have seen in their youth.
Innocent also told us the different ways to differentiate between elephants. Indian elephants are generally smaller, brown and the females have no tusks. African elephants are black and they all have tusks. Male elephants have long front legs to help them in mating season, and the females have longer back legs to help them during pregnancy and birth. We also got to witness the amazing way elephants greet one another, by twisting their trunks together in a spiral.
Innocent told us that baboon mothers have a very close bond with their babies. If a baby baboon should ever fall ill and die, the mother will carry the baby until it decomposes in the hope that it will one day come back to life. Grieving baboon mothers have also been known to attempt to steal the babies of other baboons, in order to replace the child they have lost.
A call came in over Innocent’s radio about the sighting of a leopard in a tree. The number of leopards in Chobe National Park actually exceeds the number of lions, but because these animals are so secretive and shy, they’re much less likely to be spotted. Innocent drove like crazy over to the location of the leopard, giving us what he called an ‘African massage’ in the process.
How they spotted the leopard I will never know, but there he was, lying under the shady low branches of a tree. Everything about this animal was beautiful, from the vibrant coat and piercing green eyes to its slinky feline body. Perhaps it was a case of him playing hard to get, but he instantly became my favourite.
As the sun set in Chobe National Park, our safari ended and so did our time in Botswana. We returned to the safari lodge for dinner, where there was a massive range of things to try, including kudu stew and impala stir fry! We were sent off to bed by a troupe of traditional African singers, dancers and musicians who put on the most fantastic show for us in the grounds of the lodge.
I will remember my time in Botswana as grounded, utterly care free and most of all happy. It was with great sadness that I had to leave the next day and out of all of the places I visited during my trip I have to say that this was my favourite. I also have to give a shout out to the guides and staff I met during this trip, who brought intelligence, knowledge, friendliness and humour into every day. If there is one place I could urge you to go in your life, please do yourself a favour and visit Botswana.
Tune in next time for my trip to Namibia!
Thanks for reading,