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Sitatunga95

Benin 2017 - French Africa Awaits!

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Sitatunga95

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Hi all!

 

It is with huge excitement that it is only two days until begin my journey to Pendjari National Park in Benin. The journey from Jersey, UK, to Pendjari will be a lengthy one (see below for a full itinerary) but from everything I have read and heard, it will be more than worth it! Of course the opportunity to experience one of gems of West Africa will be more than enough in itself, but I'm dreaming of lion, elephant and beautiful korrigum and roan - and, who knows, might I even come across the elusive cheetah?

 

I will be staying at the government-run Pendjari hotel deep within the park (sadly the Pendjari lodge, spectacular though it looks, is out of my budget on a solo trip), and I am travelling with Jolinaiko Eco-Tours. As always, my trusty Canon 750d will be in tow and I hope to have some passable photos to share with you all in the new year. I'm a little ashamed to say work curtailed my most recent attempt at a TR (a delightful trip to Selous and Ruaha in October), but I'll be sure to hold myself to this TR, especially as I hope to have TRs from Niokolo-Koba (April) and Zakouma (March) to share soon.

 

See you on the other side!

 

Day 1 (18th December) - Travel from Jersey to London

Day 2 - Travel from London to Cotonou, via Brussels and Abidjan

Day 3 - Drive from Cotonou to Dassa Zoume (central Benin)

Day 4 - Drive from Dassa Zoume to Pendjari Hotel

Day 5-12 - Safari from Pendjari Hotel, with particular focus on lion and elephant

Day 12 - Begin journey home

 

Tom

 

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Game Warden

@Sitatunga95 Have a great trip Tom, I'm sure I speak for a few of us when I say, "looking forward to the trip report..."

 

Matt

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TonyQ

Have a great trip- please do post a report - I will also be a keen reader 

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ForWildlife

Interesting trip! Safe travels and good sightings! I certainly hope you see a cheetah!

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Kitsafari

Very excited to read fascinating insights into the less travelled areas of Africa. Have a great trip.

 

Edited by Kitsafari

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optig

@Sitatunga 95 Please have a wonderful trip because Pendjari is an up and coming safari destination. I might even visit it myself someday.

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Sangeeta

Another one eagerly awaiting your TR, @Sitatunga95

safe travels & take lots of photos!

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inyathi

Bon voyage/safai njema!, I too will be very interested to see another Pendjari report and hope you have good luck with the cheetahs.

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Sitatunga95

Hi all,

 

Hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year! My trip to Pendjari was certainly an enjoyable one, at a particularly exciting time for the park. I am currently sorting through my 2000 photos and hope to crack on with my TR as soon as I can!

 

My hope for this TR is for it be part conventional TR, part guide to Pendjari, how to get there and what there is to see, and part discussion of what I picked up concerning the future of the park from guides and local people. I hope this will enable people to be able to use this TR as a resource for planning visits to Pendjari, as well as to give you all a flavour of what exactly it is like in this beautiful park.

 

Looking forward to sharing my experiences with you as soon as I am able!

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Sitatunga95

Hi all,

 

I'd like to kick things off with a little bit of background information about Pendjari, and some context to my trip. For those of you who haven't, I'd highly recommend heading over to Safaridude's TR from a few years ago (also in the Benin forum), as this gives a brilliant insight into the park and its wildlife. If any of you have any questions re: Pendjari, do post below and I will do my best to answer before my TR kicks off tomorrow.

 

The Park

 

Pendjari sits on the northern border of Benin, adjacent to Burkina Faso. Pendjari is the "P" of the WAP ecosystem, which is the largest contiguous functional ecosystem containing megafauna in west Africa. Across the border in Burkina sits Arli, and to the east is Parc W which is shared between Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger.

 

The park is open year round, but is only accessible to all but the most intrepid adventurers in the dry season. This tends to begin at the end of November and lasts until the first rains at the end of May. The high season is December-February, as this time coincides with a number of national holidays in Benin and France, the latter being the former metropole in Benin. For those of you who are interested, I would recommend researching the history of Benin as it is particularly fascinating. One of the few African states to be ruled by a left-wing leader and party, it retains a strong socialist element to its politics and culture that sets it apart from its neighbours. Benin certainly feels different to a lot of the more frequently visited countries we associate with safaris, which is rather refreshing.

 

The park is named after the Pendjari River which forms the border between Benin and Burkina Faso. The river contains water year-round, and the park has plenty of water in various lakes. Wildlife moves seasonally depending on the level of flooding in the north of the park. In December (peak-season), much of the wildlife moves to the north-central area of the park as the grass that spends much of the year as inaccessible or submerged becomes available for grazing. As the TR moves forward, I will hope to familiarise you with many areas of the park.

 

Recent Changes to the Park

 

As many of you will be aware, African Parks have recently taken over Pendjari in partnership with the Beninoise government. I'm a big fan of much of the work AP has done (particularly in Zakouma in Chad) and overall I have come away feeling positive about the future of Pendjari in AP's hands. This being said, there are many changes and challenges that must be faced up to, many of which I hope to touch on during this TR. I was fortunate enough to have a brief but delightful chat with the Park Director, James Terjanian, one night during my stay. I have no doubt Pendjari is in good hands and wish James, his wife and the AP team all the luck in the world in protecting this beautiful park.

 

Accommodation

 

There are two main places to stay in Pendjari; Pendjari Hotel and Pendjari Lodge. Pendjari Hotel is currently run by the Beninoise government and has a sister hotel in Natitingou called Hotel Tata Somba, where bookings can be made. I stayed at the hotel and found it to be perfectly passable, if a little dear for what you get. Some reviews out there in cyberspace may put you off the hotel, but I found it to be clean, in a good game-viewing area and quite well-run. I paid just under £400 for nine nights accommodation in an ensuite room with a/c, £90 for food (lunch and dinner each day) and £40 on drinks. If you are a breakfast eater, budget £4 a day pp for this. My guide, Boris, and driver, Arnaud, stayed in cheaper accommodation with shared toilets/showers, so alternative accommodation is available.

 

Pendjari Lodge is situated about half an hour's drive south of the hotel, and is significantly more upmarket than the hotel. I visited one morning, and it really is a beautiful little group of tents with a central area for dining. It sits atop a small hill overlooking a waterhole several hundred yards away, and is situated between the verdant northern reaches of the park and the famous Mare Bali, a waterhole in the centre of Pendjari. I came away with the strong opinion that in peak season, the lodge is not in as good a game viewing area as the hotel, which I will elaborate on over the next few days. This being said, if service/food/accommodation is a dealbreaker for you, the lodge will add a great deal to your safari experience in my opinion. Rumour has it that AP have increased prices for the lodge in the last few days, but as these are just rumours I shan't give specifics. The lodge is more expensive than the hotel, but not prohibitively so at all.

 

The Journey

 

My trip with Boris and Arnaud was organised through Jolinaiko Eco Tours, who are based in Ghana and organise trips around western Africa. I  prefer to give my opinion on tour companies and guides/drivers on an individual basis, so if you are considering booking with Jolinaiko or perhaps Boris on a freelance basis, then let me know and I will be happy to give you feedback.

 

Boris met me in Cotonou where I stayed at an airport hotel (expensive but worth it for the convenience). Getting to Cotonou is easy enough, with flights coming in from Europe (Air France, Brussels Airlines) and the rest of Africa (South African {SAA are stopping this route soon}, Ethiopian, Royal Air Maroc).

 

From Cotonou it is a two-day drive to get to Pendjari. I stopped at Parakou, in eastern Benin, where there are limited but acceptable options hotel-wise. Many like to overnight in Dassa-Zoume at Hotel Jeco, but be aware that this leaves you a very long drive the next day to get to Pendjari. It is an eight hour drive from Pendjari Hotel to Parakou, and a six hour drive from Parakou to Cotonou. Your journey will take you through Natitingou, where it is best to stockpile on fuel, water, cash and snacks and Tanguieta, the last town before the primary park entrance at Batia. The roads in Benin are generally OK, but sometimes poor. The road is tarmac until Tanguieta, but the dirt road between Tanguieta and Batia is in very poor conditions and should only be attempted by those in 4x4s. The roads in the park are generally in good condition.

 

The Weather

 

During my stay, temperatures in the day were typically in the low thirties, but the temperature built very slowly through the day due to the thick haze associated with the Harmattan. As such, mornings are chilly but game viewing remains good later in the day than it tends to elsewhere on the continent as a consequence. Nights are pleasant. The Harmattan is noticeable, and on some days, visibility is reduced to a few hundred yards. Be aware that the dust will also get everywhere, and be prepared with equipment to clean cameras and binoculars. Due to the abundance of water in the park, the grass is very high, so unless the area has been burnt sightings can be hard to come by!

 

The Wildlife

 

Pendjari is well known as being the last stronghold of lion and elephant in West Africa, and a small but rarely seen population of cheetah do roam the WAP complex. Besides these 'marquee' species, there is also the chance to encounter Buffon's Kob, Warthog, Roan, Bushbuck, Oribi, Reedbuck, Western Hartebeest, Korrigum, Spotted Hyaena Patas Monkey, Vervet Monkey and Olive Baboon. Leopard are almost never seen, and Wild Dogs (the species closest to my heart) have not been reliably recorded in Pendjari this century according to rangers I spoke to. Rumours of Cheetah, Dogs and Leopard persist but, typically, photos rarely surface.

 

Nocturnal species are present but rarely recorded, although Pendjari Lodge does now offer night drives. I was lucky enough to enjoy some special crepescular sightings during my stay which I'm looking forward to sharing!

 

Birding in Pendjari is spectacular, and I have never seen a density of birds of prey such as there was in northern Pendjari. I'm a novice birder, but would heartily recommend any ornithologists enjoy a stay in the park.

 

 

 

I hope some of this is helpful, and as before, please comment if anything else important may need answering. Looking forward to giving you all a taste of what Benin has to offer over the next few days.

 

Tom

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michael-ibk

Thank you for all the practical detail, really very helpful, and I'm looking forward to finding out what you saw in the park. Could you tell us the rates of the lodge?

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Sangeeta

Lovely start, Tom!

Do you know if charter flights are possible at all from Cotonou direct to Pendjari? 

Looking forward to reading about your special sightings & yes, @Safaridude‘s TR was a wonderful intro to the park, and now yours too will add to the richness of the forum.

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Kitsafari

you are drawing me in with exotic words like Benin, korrigum, and WAP ecosystem. 

Im now a captive reader too. 

On with your TR please.... ?

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Sitatunga95
21 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Thank you for all the practical detail, really very helpful, and I'm looking forward to finding out what you saw in the park. Could you tell us the rates of the lodge?

 

Hi Michael, I'm glad you found that helpful. The rates of the lodge have (apparently) just increased, but I'm concerned this might just be a rumour. It has previously been 50 Euro a night but may have increased to 70 Euro a night. Food and drinks will likewise be more expensive than at the hotel, but I am unsure about how much - sorry that's not very informative!

 

11 hours ago, Sangeeta said:

Lovely start, Tom!

Do you know if charter flights are possible at all from Cotonou direct to Pendjari? 

Looking forward to reading about your special sightings & yes, @Safaridude‘s TR was a wonderful intro to the park, and now yours too will add to the richness of the forum.

 

Thanks Sangeeta! An airstrip has recently been constructed in Pendjari, but I don't think regular charter flights are yet available. I'm sure, however, that this must be on AP's radar. It used to be fairly common for some safari-goers to fly to Parakou on a scheduled flight and drive on from there, but it seems this is now almost never done. Alternatively, it is a shorter drive to Pendjari from Ouagadougou and Niamey, but these routes are currently far less secure than the routes from Cotonou.

 

1 hour ago, Kitsafari said:

you are drawing me in with exotic words like Benin, korrigum, and WAP ecosystem. 

Im now a captive reader too. 

On with your TR please.... ?

 

Your wish is my command Kit!

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Sitatunga95

Pendjari Day 1:

 

After a lengthy journey from Cotonou, I couldn't wait to get started discovering Pendjari! At Pendjari hotel, there is a handy map (below) detailing some (but not all) routes in the park. The plan for the morning drive was to leave at 7am and travel to Mare Sacree, in the north-central area of the park, where Boris had seen lions a few weeks previous. We would then return to the area around the hotel as the morning progressed and drive the circuit around Mare Fougou. After a midday break, we would venture out again at 4pm to Mare Yangaouali further to the west, where it was rumoured (incorrectly) a cheetah had been seen the day before, returning by nightfall at around 6.45pm.

 

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Below is an edited version of this map (done in about thirty seconds in Paint!) denoting key lakes, the hotel (star) and a new route from midway along the Circuit Sacree to the main road south of the Hotel (near the Lodge).

 

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The initial drive took us from the hotel across grassland south of Mare Diwouni for around twenty minutes before reaching gallery forest near to the border post with Arli. Much of this grassland near the hotel had been burnt, affording us excellent first views of Buffon's Kob despite some smoke lingering from the previous night's fires in Arli. The grass was high in places and I was quick to realise game-viewing was going to be challenging to say the least! 

 

The drive to the Arli border post was quiet, with Kob and warthog being sighted. Some of you know that tracking is a great passion of mine, and it was good to see tracks of civet, elephant and African golden wolf (two of which we had seen during the drive to the hotel the night before) on the road. There were many elephant tracks in particular from the night before, where small herds had crossed back south after drinking at the river to our north. We kept our eyes peeled, but after another 25 minutes we had reached the beginning of the Circuit Sacree without coming across anything other than kob - whose beauty I enjoyed nevertheless! We opted to take the route to our right and about a third of the way along the loop we came to a viewing platform overlooking the beautiful Mare Sacree. We spent a very peaceful few moments here with excellent views of pied kingfisher and distant snorts of hippo keeping us occupied, whilst I also scratched around some fresh spotted hyaena tracks.

 

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Pied kingfisher at Mare Sacree

 

After it became apparent the cheetah weren't waiting for us eagerly at Mare Sacree, we moved on towards where the loop rejoins the main track, my head dangling out of the window looking for tracks the whole way. As we came to a dip containing a few inches of sand I yelled my first "stop!" of the trip ("stop" seems to transcend language barriers, or perhaps it was my tone...) and I pointed down to the first lion track of our safari. An adult male had been at this very spot perhaps just twelve hours before, with a hyaena in tow - to say I was thrilled was an understatement! I had been worried that I might come away from Pendjari without seeing any sign of lion, so to find such fresh tracks so early on was a great sign.

 

By around 8.15 we rejoined the main track and turned back towards the hotel where we planned to explore Mare Fougou. The loop we returned on had far less grass than much of the previous loop (in many places on the Circuit Sacree grass is seven or eight feet high). Straight away I had a lifer - Patas monkey!

 

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My first Patas Monkey - apologies for the poor photo!

 

Whilst I was trying and failing to get a good photo, a rather bulky figure crossed the road in front of us and I was delighted to realise it was my first Pendjari buffalo! A herd of over 200 animals crossed in front of us, containing a number of very cute calves and some delightful tawny individuals.

 

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The brownest buffalo I'd ever seen!

 

Thrilled with a great start to our safari, I clambered onto the roof (allowed in Pendjari at the moment) as we travelled through another area of particularly tall grass and again the brakes were slammed on as I shouted, far too loudly, "Elephant!!!". The backs of around a dozen animals were stampeding away from us through the grass. The area was quite open so we had a good view of them (or rather, their backs) as they ran. I was quick to learn that most animals, especially elephants, but even kob and birds, are very vehicle shy in Benin. I suppose this is little surprise given poaching is still prevalent in this ecosystem, but it was nevertheless wonderful to have seen ellies on our first drive.

 

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Brief view of ellies near Sacree

 

Much of the drive back to the hotel was quiet game-wise, but we stopped on several occasions as I attempted to photograph the local birdlife. In my opinion, the birding in Pendjari was some of the finest I have ever come across. In particular, the number of raptors I saw was quite astonishing, and I dearly wished I was a more accomplished birder throughout my trip. Abyssinian rollers are also ubiquitous in Pendjari, and photo opportunities were plenty.

 

By 10.30 we began the Circuit Fougou near camp. Almost immediately we came across a photogenic warthog and young male bushbuck in quick succession. The initial 3/4 or so of the Circuit Fougou are quite densely vegetated with gallery forest and grass, making it ideal habitat for bushbuck, who are beautifully marked here, and I hope to showcase them throughout this TR. As we drove, I got my first glimpse of Burkina Faso across the river and I kept my eyes peeled for Burkinabe wildlife to no avail. As we entered a more open portion of grassland, a vaguely familiar head bobbed along atop the grass at speed. A roan! I hadn't encountered roan since my visit to Chobe six years ago, so my first sighting of l'hippotrague was great!

 

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Roan in the grass of Fougou

 

We soon came to Mare Fougou itself, which is only a five minute drive from the hotel but feels a world away. The lake itself is beautiful and always densely packed with birdlife. Views of the lake are limited, but we stopped at the mainpoint and, after admiring our first waterbuck of the trip, my eyes were again drawn down to the sand. "Lion tracks" I again blurted excitedly to Boris and Arnaud. A lioness had been there that very morning and was heading in our direction of travel....might we get lucky on our first morning?

 

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Mare Fougou

 

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Young Waterbuck at Mare Fougou

 

The heat of the day had built up by now, though, and a brief soiree towards the hotel brought up a handful of kob and some vultures, but nothing else.

 

Thrilled with the start we had made, I retreated to my room for a siesta and to dream of what possibly awaited that evening. To be continued...

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Sitatunga95

Day 1, Afternoon:

 

Our afternoon drive began in much the same fashion as our morning drive, travelling across the grassy plains towards the gallery forest near the border with Arli. The ubiquitous kob were the only signs of life, and before reaching the gallery forest we turned to take the loop around Mare Diwouni. Here, the grass was extremely high, but we soon surprised a hippo who tore through the bush after catching sight of us. He was quite a way from the safety of the water and the day was still very hot, so who knows what he was doing! Our pause for the hippo allowed me this photo opportunity with rather handsome Buffon's kob.

 

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Kob at Diwouni

 

The remainder of the Diwouni loop was obscured by grass, although tracks indicated a large troop of baboons had only recently passed through. From the end of the loop we headed past the Post d'Arli (border post) and arrived in the Sacree area. I had very high hopes of catching up with either the herds of buffalo or elephant we had located in the morning, and accordingly we chose not to take the road to Mare Sacree but to stay on the main track (on which we had looped back that morning). The loop itself produced just a distant ellie mother and calf but a few hundred yards beyond where it ends, we had a hugely enjoyable sighting with by far the most relaxed (and big!) ellie we would see in Pendjari. We initially spotted the bull a hundred yards or so from the road, but he trundled nonchalantly closer until he was standing calmly on the road in front of us. The dust in the atmosphere was beginning to make the light take on an odd, orange quality, affording great photo opportunities of this placid, tuskless beauty! Most ellies in Pendjari are either tuskless or have tiny tusks (a sad consequence of poaching), but this did little to detract from the majesty of this guy.

 

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Tuskless Bull

 

After twenty minutes we continued on our journey towards Mare Yangoaouli, disturbing some cross-looking baboons on the way. As we approached the lake, I realised that we were for the first time in an area I could imagine cheetah living in, open plains, well-populated with young kob, dotted with areas of thick grass where the fires hadn't reached. It was through one of these thicker areas we were driving that I was absent-mindedly gazing out around marvelling at the beauty of Pendjari, when I had to do a double-take - in a gap amongst the tall grass, was a face peering curiously back at me. "Stop, stop, stop, stop" went up the call and I urged Arnaud, frantically, to reverse back to where I'd seen the spotted cat. Sure enough, disappearing into the bush was a SERVAL! I couldn't believe my luck, and had never expected to come across a serval, especially as I had only come across my first serval in many years of trying on my last safari in Tanzania. If only I had managed a photo, I thought, but I was nonetheless thrilled. Boris and Arnaud were a little bemused as I explained what a serval was and how special it was to see one....it transpires they had never seen one, and that, when shown, several of the guides thought the serval was in fact a cheetah. Might that go some way to explain the "cheetah" sightings around Yangoaouli?

 

Flushed with success, we enjoyed the late evening light at Mare Yangoaouli, where a handful of hippos and herons kept my camera busy, and briefly explored the plains to the south before heading back as the light began to fade. We slowed as we reached the area I had spotted the serval and, unbelievably, there it was again! This time, it loped speedily across the road in front of us, eyes flashing orange in the headlights of our vehicle. Before we reached Sacree, we had also enjoyed great views of white-tailed mongoose and, literally, hundreds of nightjars (including the beautiful standard-winged nightjar).

 

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Black-Headed Heron above Mare Yangoaouli

 

By the time we reached the Circuit Sacree, night had set in and we picked up the pace as we were running late (poor timekeeping, I know, my blathering about the serval had held us back). Immediately beyond the loop, a pair of eyes were picked up on the road with the headlights, but we all thought them initially to belong to the nightjars dotting our route home. But very quickly, the body of the animal took shape and I could hardly believe it - there, sat plum in the middle of the road we had driven just a few hours before, lay a beautiful male lion. And as if things couldn't get any better, he began to bellow out a series of roars claiming Pendjari as his. In the palava, I snapped a few shaky photos, but for me the experience will be held much dearer than the snaps....after five minutes he rose and padded into the thick grass to our right and we headed home in a state of dazed excitement.

 

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I certainly hoped better photos were to follow!

 

But, alas, the evening was not over. As we came over a hump in the road, a shadowy figure stood in front of us, and I assumed initially we had stumbled across another white-tailed mongoose. But as our headlights lit up the animal, I recognised it as my second-ever civet! Like the serval, my first civet had only finally graced me with its presence in Tanzania a few months ago, so this was another hugely special sighting for me. Such shoddy camerawork, but boy was I wearing a massive grin over a dinner of guinea fowl and sweet potato wedges that evening!

 

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Shaky civet

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Sitatunga95

Day one highlights: Lion, Serval, Civet, White-Tailed Mongoose, Elephant, Buffalo and more! Day two to follow tomorrow.

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Sitatunga95

Pendjari Day 2:

 

The plan for day 2 was to drive Mare Fougou early in the morning before heading south to explore Mare Bali before returning to camp. In the evening we would again head north-west to Sacree, in the hopes of catching up with the lion from the night before.

 

Fougou was very quiet on the mammal-front, although a first for me was a red-flanked duiker darting across the road in front of us. I never got a good photo of these beautiful little antelope, but just seeing them in the flesh was very special! Whilst the mammals were hiding, there was wonderful birding to be had, with highlights including some very docile Abyssinian Rollers, as well as Black-Chested Snake Eagles and a beautiful Martial Eagle. The Martial Eagle was a real highlight, as a friend of mine, Stratton Hatfield, has a real passion for the birds and runs the Martial Eagle Project in the Masai Mara. An interesting moment ensued as we moved away from the eagle, as we listened to a bushbuck barking furiously near Mare Fougou, well away from the main road. Given we had seen tracks here the day before, I was convinced there were lions in the area, but well hidden from view.

 

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Abyssinian Roller

 

As soon as we rejoined the main road in order to head south to Mare Bali, we spied a bushbuck a dozen or so metres into the bush. I've been fortunate enough to see many different bushbuck across the continent, but these must be amongst Africa's most beautiful.

 

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Bushbuck

 

Keeping our eye's peeled for Western Hartebeest and Korrigum, we continued south, stopping about halfway for an interesting sighting of a red-flanked duiker following a pair of ground hornbills as they rooted around for food. I didn't manage to capture the duiker with the camera, but note the blue colouration typical of Abyssinian ground hornbills.

 

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Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

 

Mare Bali itself was very quiet, aside from the resident piles of crocodiles and a sole hippo hugging the far bank. Again there was plenty of birdlife, including the trip's first Woolly-Necked Stork and Grey Heron. Once the heat of the day grew, we meandered back along the main road to the hotel, reflecting on a quiet but satisfying morning drive.

 

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Water Spinach

 

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Crocs at Mare Bali

 

Our afternoon drive began with much anticipation - could we possibly reproduce the excellent luck of the night before? We again passed the border post at Arli before encountering anything other than Kob, but it was lovely to see a large male warthog at a small marsh just west of the post. The road was dotted with elephant tracks and it wasn't long before we spied some arched grey backs in the tall grass. The herd was placid, but the grass did obscure our view slightly - an enjoyable sighting nonetheless! I remember Joyce Poole writing somewhere that an elephant sighting will always make one smile, and I think she was absolutely right.

 

After another fifteen minute drive we reached the Circuit Sacree and decided to take the main track that had served us so well the day before. We were rewarded with a fine but distant view of another gorgeous roan and a brief look at a buffalo herd before we encountered a delightful herd of ellies. The herd was feeding from trees standing on burnt ground, so there was no long grass to ruin our view. One calf in particular was very relaxed and, whilst his elders kept a wary distance from us, he was quite happy to flop around in the ash as he might in mud or sand.

 

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Pendjari Ellie

 

By the time we left the ellies we were well and truly into the "witching hour" and we were all hoping to catch a glimpse of Pendjari's famous lions in the daylight. The light had almost entirely faded by the time we approached the end of our return leg along the Circuit Sacree and I had to squint to make out a figure about a hundred metres away over one of the small bridges on the main roads that cover drainage lines. It raised the pulse, but I had almost convinced myself it was a kob before it started trotting towards us and the nearby kob erupted in a cacophany of alarm whistles - Lion!!

 

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First Daytime View of a West African Lion

 

In fact, a beautiful lioness was pacing towards us, clearly on the hunt. She wandered straight past our vehicle, pausing a moment to sit down and stare at us, puzzled. After fifteen minutes or so, we had to leave her as she continued along the road behind us into the darkness but what an amazing sighting we had. We got a good look at her injury, as you can see a deep wound on her face. She seemed unbothered by it, and of course many lions have survived far worse.

 

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Imperfect Beauty

 

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Looking for Supper

 

We continued on through the late evening keeping half an eye out for another late Pendjari special, but that would really be greedy, wouldn't it? Well, about halfway between the border post Arli and the beginning of the Circuit Sacree, we encountered a gorgeous white-tailed mongoose, but to our surprise more eyes glistened just beyond it. And there, again sat in the middle of the road, was our big male lion from the night before! And this time, he was with a young lioness, who promptly slinked into the grass upon our arrival. Time dictated that we needed to sneak past in some haste, but not before a brief look into the grass revealed another lioness looking warily back at us - so four lions for the evening and five in total.

 

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White-Tailed Mongoose

 

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Late Night Lioness

 

To say I slept soundly that night would be an understatement - a long day ending in two fantastic sightings of the severely threatened West African Lion.

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adam parkison

Fantastic start of your trip. East and Southern African landscapes might be the "quintessential" African experience... but there is something truly wild about the Sudan-Guinea savanna woodlands... The fact that not many tourists flood these places make them even more special. Thanks for the report and the photos, looking forward to seeing more updates!

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Game Warden

@Sitatunga95I hope you don't mind but I took the liberty of editing one of your images into the initial post, so your trip report now shows up on the Latest Trip Reports sliding banner: that way it will have more exposure.

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Sitatunga95

Pendjari Day 3: Christmas Eve

 

The plan for day three was very much to concentrate on the Mare Sacree area that was providing us with such fantastic sightings so far. We began the morning driving around Fougou, as Boris and I were both convinced there were lions to be seen here. Sadly the lions were again not to be seen (if they even existed around Fougou!), but we were again lucky to see more beautifully marked bushbuck and a handful of baboons on the loop. We attempted to take the road to Mare Tiabiga from Mare Fougou, but unfortunately this road has been blocked for the forseeable future. The small section of road we could drive, however, yielded good views of young kob suckling and the trip's best (albeit fleeting) view of reedbuck. Reedbuck and oribi were probably seen about half a dozen times each throughout the trip, but they were always disappearing into the grass at speed. They were great to see nonetheless!

 

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Bushbuck at Fougou

 

The Mare Diwouni loop yielded the morning's best sighting, a big lone daggha boy, as well as a fascinating sighting near the main road - the trip's first kill! Right by the road lay a young kob, killed with a very neat, small bite to the front of the neck. The killer had taken a few bites from the rear and back legs of the kob, but other than that the carcass was uneaten. It had attracted the attention of a tawny eagle, but was still fresh. The state of the carcass basically ruled out a lion kill and, had I been in the Mara, I would have been fairly confident it was a cheetah kill! But before leaping to any conclusions I had a brief look for tracks and Boris suddenly pointed to an animal disappearing into grass that he was sure was a civet (bear in mind the sun was well up by this point). There was a mess of tracks, some African golden wolf, some civet and some mongoose, and I think it is likely that a golden wolf was the culprit. But, who knows, maybe there was a cheetah just resting off in the grass!

 

Our trip to Sacree was fruitless, but I was just happy to be enjoying Christmas Eve in the bush. We got a beautiful view of a saddle-billed stork on the Sacree loop, and the ubiquitous kob kept us entertained, but other than that this morning was a quiet, but beautiful one.

 

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Saddle-Billed Stork

 

If the morning was quiet, the afternoon was anything but. We left camp at 15.30 with the sun still quite high in the sky and we headed to Sacree with high hopes. We took the usual route past the Arli border post and I settled into my seat, planning to really perk up once the heat of the day had dissipated. It was just a few minutes later that Arnaud started tapping me violently on the shoulder and barking frantic French instructions to Boris who was driving. From his reaction I fancifully thought "Cheetah!", and the reality was not too disappointing in comparison. Emerging from the bush was the beautiful male who had graced us with his presence the previous two nights. This time, however, he was with us in the middle of the day, and we had light and time to enjoy his presence.

 

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Male Lion Emerging from the Poste d'Arli Area

 

He trudged slowly towards the road in front of us, and thus began an amazing sighting that lasted nearly 45 minutes. He paced the road in front of us the whole time, stopping to mark his territory and cast us mildly irritated glances every now and then. Perhaps the highlight was the fact that we enjoyed this sighting completely alone, with no other vehicle joining us at all. I don't want to be selfish, but sometimes being alone with an animal adds huge value to the experience.

 

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Paws for Thought

 

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Glowering Lion

 

Perhaps most surreal was that, whilst we watched the lion, clumps of ashen grass were falling from the sky, spewed from the fires in Arli. This is perhaps the closest visual I will ever get to watching a wild lion in the snow, and it was quite breathtaking.

 

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Murky Road Ahead

 

It was with a sense of huge satisfaction that we left the lion as he disappeared into the long grass near the beginning of the Sacree loop. We quickly came across a large group of Patas and a particularly photogenic kob, before we took the new road south-east towards Mare Bali. And the good news kept coming, as I spotted our first Western Hartebeest cantering away into the bush - what a great evening! The area to the north of this road looks brilliant for cheetah and we kept our eyes peeled to no avail and we turned back so that we could pass through the Sacree area in the witching hour.

 

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Something's Missing...

 

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First Hartebeest!

 

We trawled slowly through the area we had left the big male lion, and sure enough he was curled up, much like a gigantic tabby, in thick grass just off the road. We paused momentarily, as a traffic jam (four vehicles) was gathered a few hundred yards down the road had caught our attention. Motoring on we caught sight of the attraction - a crouched lioness with eyes fixed on a pair of kob!

 

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The Centre of Attention

 

Now this was a wonderful sighting and we spent nearly half an hour as the lioness carefully stalked the kob, only for the eventual outcome to become apparent when the kob unknowingly wandered across the road into an area of impenetrable grass. However, this was the first time the lack of guiding culture at Pendjari was brought home to me. With the lioness just a dozen metres away, guides were wandering from vehicle to vehicle, urinating behind their cars, dropping litter, even using their horns to move other vehicles out of the way. I was even loudly scolded at one point because of the clicking sound my camera was making! I sincerely hope that AP will educate everyone using the park so that these sightings are as magical as possible in the future. 

 

As darkness fell, the lioness crept onto the road and we followed her back towards camp for another few moments. She was remarkably relaxed and particularly beautiful - the perfect Pendjari lioness.

 

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Lady of the Night

 

Our drive home was punctuated only by a lone white-tailed mongoose and our grinning babbling as we reflected on another remarkable day in northern Benin.

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Jonas

Brilliant stuff! Thanks so much for sharing.

A lion sighting without any other vehicle is indeed very cool.

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Game Warden

@Sitatunga95 I love the Murky Road Ahead image... I hope your report inspires more to visit Pendjari.

 

Matt

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Sitatunga95

Pendjari Day 4, Christmas Day

 

We intended to make a very early start to Christmas Day with a trip to Mare Yangoaouli in search of Benin's elusive cheetah - so it was a surprise to find the car deserted at 6.30 when I arrived. Puzzled, I heard a disembodied voice from the darkness....it took me a few moments to clock that Arnaud and Boris were under the car! In a cruel twist of fate, a slow flat had put our vehicle out of action overnight.

 

After an hour wrestling to get a spare on (the slope we had parked on rather complicated matters) it became apparent that Pendjari's roads had rather taken their toll on Boris' Toyota, and the decision was taken that Boris and Arnaud would retreat to Natitingou for some repairs and to collect some additional fuel. Of course it was disappointing to miss out on a day of game-viewing, but I spent a very relaxing Christmas nosing around camp, doing a bit of birding and exploring.

 

So a different report for Christmas, here are some photos of camp and the wildlife around the hotel.

 

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Red-Breasted Bee-Eater

 

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West African Rainbow Lizard

 

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Orange-Winged Dropwing

 

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Namaqua Dove

 

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Red-Cheeked Cordon Bleu

 

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Red-Billed Firefinch

 

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Hooded Vultures

 

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Striped Ground Squirrel

 

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African Fish Eagle

 

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Female Buffon's Kob

 

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Wattled Plover

 

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Our Vehicle

 

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Pendjari Hotel Bar and Restaurant

 

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Guides' accommodation at Pendjari Hotel

 

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View of the bar and restaurant from the road

 

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jeremie

Thank you very much for this fantastic TR, it seems you have been really lucky with the lions!!!!

Could you tell us more about the changes that APN will implement in the park administration? Did you hear some recent sightings of the cheetah? Do APN plan to collar some cheetahs?

 

 

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