INDEX OF CONTENT
Words & Photos: Christopher Green
After spending two nights in the Khwai Concession area, in Botswana, we headed to Moremi Wildlife Reserve, known for its large herds of plains game, many predators and the endangered African wild dog. Our first two days in the reserve were everything we had hoped for and more. I pick up the trail on our third day (and day six of our adventure).
Spellbound, we watch the family interaction.
Day six dawns and with the excitement of the previous night's lioness and buffalo foray still fresh in our minds, aided by lion and hyena calls heard close to camp just before sunrise, expectations are high. Once again it does not take long for Moremi to deliver. While attempting to locate the male lion of the previous day, a call comes through about a cheetah sighting.
The trail takes us into the bush once more and soon movement is spotted. Two jackals materialise first, leaping through the long grass, and close behind, attempting but not quite achieving the same mobility, come four baby cheetahs. The mother, a lot less excitable than her cubs, is not far behind as she attempts to bring her cubs back to her. The cubs offer us only a fleeting glance as they put their camouflage to good use and disappear into the long grass, followed by the mother. As a result we soon lose them, however a fellow mobile safari locates them not far from us at the sight of their recent kill.
The mother and cubs settle down under the cover of a bush, utilising the shade and protection from prying eyes. Disho places the age of the cubs at around two months, making them particularly vulnerable to other predators. With this in mind, the mother places the carcass of the kill where it's unlikely to draw the unwelcome interest of scavengers, especially vultures. They in turn attract predators such as lion and hyena, all capable of killing the cubs. Fortunately for us it also means that the mother is unwilling to leave her kill and the effective cover she has found. Disho positions the vehicle within 10 metres of the cheetahs, closer than ideal but due to the long grass necessary for a good view. At one stage, the cubs take fright due to some movement within the vehicle and seek to escape into the grass. The mother is unfazed by the vehicles and calls her cubs back. Spellbound, we watch the family interact as the mother and cubs feed on the kill; the mother eating while the cubs lap at the blood that leaves bloody moustaches.
We move on in search of the wild dogs rumoured to be in the area. Unfortunately, we are unable to locate them before heading back for lunch, a hot shower and afternoon siesta. While we are lounging around camp, Disho is out locating the wild dog pack. They are sleeping when we arrive, but as the shade moves off them they reluctantly get up and move back into the shade to resume their slumber. We're told that the pack was unsuccessful in their hunt that morning, meaning we are guaranteed to witness a hunt later on in the day.
Wild dogs don't begin their hunt until the air temperature is lower than their body temperature, which in Botswana can be very late in the evening. Eventually the pack is ready to hunt. The dogs amble around for a short while before a direction is picked and they break into a slow run. Surprisingly for me, this is not the close, cohesive hunting pack I would have imagined. Rather they seem to agree on a general direction and then each dog hunts independently or in pairs within the desired direction. Rather than following the dogs, Disho decides to drive to where he thinks the dogs will pass on their hunt. After repositioning ourselves, we wait for the dogs to cross our path. This happens quicker than expected and within moments an impala bursts out of the bushes at breakneck speed, its pace justified by the wild dog nipping on its heels. The expected pursuit by the rest of the pack does not happen as they come into view, still moving at a relaxed jog and clearly unconcerned about the exploits of their pack mate.
As the dogs move out of the thicker bush we're able to view them at work on a more open plain. Their strategy soon becomes clear as they simply don’t stop running, chasing their prey into exhaustion. We witness the close escape of another impala, once again chased by a solitary dog while the rest of the pack continues their ceaseless running. It's getting dark and after losing track of the pack, we are forced to head back to camp.
Day seven bursts upon us with immediate action. Just two-hundred metres down the road and we come across the previously viewed male lion and his brother. They are following a lioness, with the younger male attempting to woo her while the older brother seems happy to hang back. Disho explains that this lioness is not tied to either of the two male groups, but moves in an area on the border of both territories. A call comes in about a possible leopard sighting in the area and we decide to leave the lions to their romancing.
Disho has an idea of where the leopard is most likely to be, so we head straight to a small forest of young mopani trees. The vehicle slows and all eyes peer intently into the trees. A herd of impala give us a helping hand as we follow the direction of their nervous stare and see a male leopard silently advancing on them. Suddenly the impala are sent in multiple directions, leaping in panic as another leopard, which they had been completely unaware of, strolls through their herd. Luckily for them though, he is focused on the other leopard that has made a quick getaway at his appearance. Having sent the other leopard running for safety the new arrival seems happy to follow at a sedate pace, which suits us perfectly.
The movement of the leopard in the tree is fascinating, its movements assured and graceful.
The two leopards meet again as the smaller male scrambles up a tree in search of safety and the other maintains a studied indifference, stretching out in the shade below the tree. The assured and graceful movements of the leopard in the tree are fascinating to watch and the balance and power it displays awe inspiring. After a while, the smaller leopard seems to realise that hiding in the tree is not a long-term option and climbs down. It acknowledges its position of subservience to the larger specimen by settling down behind it and making several obsequious approaches, belly to the ground. One approach brings it too close, at which point it receives a warning growl and quickly backs off. Its next approach seems to be better received and it is allowed to get up and depart. The remaining leopard also decides to wander off to find another spot, away from the ever-watchful eyes of us tourists.
Later in the day, warthog attracts our attention as we spot two coupling near a small dam. Warthog remain stuck together for approximately two minutes while mating, so we are able to drive right up close to them. They do not seem happy at this intrusion but can do no more than awkwardly manoeuvre themselves in an attempt to face us head on. Finally they are able to pull themselves apart and the female immediately bolts off. The male seems to be in a befuddled state and trots a couple of confused circles before heading off in the other direction.
Moremi is intent on keeping us occupied as we come across the larger of the lions we'd followed that morning. He is lying next to a termite mound, basking in the late-afternoon sun. The light on him is too good to pass up for the photographers amongst us and so the pursuit of the cheetahs is put on hold while we capture some images of the king reclining.
Aware of the fading light we soon have to move on. While the cheetah do not materialise we come across a lioness enjoying the last rays of sunshine and we settle down to enjoy them with her. On our way back to camp Disho's spotlight picks up two African wild cats, which could very easily be confused with Tuppence, our house cat. They are incredibly cute, perhaps more so due to the fact that they seem to be so out of place in the same landscape as the recently viewed lion. They bound away through the grass in a manner that brings to mind Gulliver on his travels in the land of giants.
Day eight is set aside as a travel day, to ensure that we get to the airport in time for our flights. This does not mean that it is to be without its share of excitement though. Moremi bids us farewell in style as we are confronted by two male cheetahs casually walking towards us. As they pass our vehicle, one pauses atop an anthill in search of prey. Despite promises made the previous night that we would not have time to stop and follow any animals, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. A quick u-turn and we are following one of Africa’s largest predators. Unfortunately, the need to resume the journey can no longer be ignored and we hit the road at a slightly faster pace this time.
While the highlights of the week were amazing, it was the captivation of the in-between moments that made this week the trip of a lifetime. We were given a complete experience of the remarkable environment around us and the array of life it contains. A world that I did not have the knowledge or awareness to comprehend on my own was opened before me and in every moment it held me a fascinated, captive of its stunning beauty.
What to pack:
• Warm clothes, the morning and evening drives get surprisingly cold.
• Mosquito repellent, evenings by the water can become a feeding frenzy with you as the prey.
• Binoculars, camera and whatever else you deem necessary to view the game. Make sure you have a spare battery and memory card for your camera.
When to go:
• The consensus from the tour operators is that the best months are from around August until the start of the rains. Not only for the abundance of game as they flock to the delta for water but because the grass is shorter and it's easier to view them.
Who to contact:
• I went with Letaka Safaris, who offered an amazing service. Find them on www.letakasafaris.com
• For those not as concerned with creature comforts, an alternative is a private guide who either provides a game vehicle or drives yours. Camping and food you would then cover yourself.